MDOT tries ‘zipper merge’ on I-96 near Lowell


LOWELL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — State road officials are asking drivers to be aware of a new kind of merge near the Alden Nash Avenue bridge construction project on I-96 south of Lowell.

Both eastbound and westbound I-96 between about a mile west of Alden Nash to the Kent-Ionia county line at Montcalm Avenue was narrowed to one lane at 8 p.m. Tuesday, the Michigan Department of Transportation says.

A map showing where the Alden Nash Avenue overpass is being replaced. MDOT says drivers should use the zipper method to merge into the single lane.

“You’ll see a sign that’ll say, ‘Merge two miles ahead. Use both lanes.’ ‘Merge one mile ahead. Use both lanes.’ Then it’ll say, ‘Merge here and take turns,’” MDOT spokesman John Richard explained.

The idea of the zipper merge is for drivers to take turns merging like interlocking the teeth of a zipper. A vehicle from one lane would go, then one from the other and so forth.

“This is all based on the assumption that drivers are being courteous, following the rules and paying attention,” Richard said.

That may make many drivers skeptical, but the maneuver has seemed to work elsewhere in Michigan. MDOT used the zipper merge in the Detroit area once and said it didn’t cause any problems. And drivers in Minnesota have been using it for some time.

The zipper merge an alternative to the early merge, with which Michigan drivers are more familiar. MDOT says the new method could work more efficiently.

“Confusion with the early merge is people are not exactly sure when and where to merge,” Richard said. “[The zipper merge] tells you exactly where to merge. Use both lanes, merge up ahead. Merge here and alternate. Take turns and be courteous.”

The Alden Nash bridge project is the first time MDOT is asking drivers in West Michigan to use the maneuver.

MDOT says it’s trying the method because traffic backups are common when lane closures are in effect on the busy stretch of I-96 near Lowell. They’re hoping to avoid that.

All lanes of I-96 should reopen by 5 a.m. Friday. This week’s will be the last closure for the Alden Nash overpass project, MDOT says. They’ll watch it closely to see if the zipper merge improves traffic flow.

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