An upcoming bridge repair project will ask drivers in Johnson County to change their driving habits when it comes to merging traffic in construction zones.
Rather than merging early as soon as it’s safe, drivers will be asked to wait to merge as long as possible after reaching the construction zone for repairs to the northbound U.S. 69 bridge over 119th Street in Overland Park.
Under this method, drivers are expected to remain in the soon-to-close lane until the merge point. They then are to take turns merging into the single lane. This method is known as a zipper merge and it’s safer when traffic is heavy and slow.
“We actually have had a lot of public requests if we would look at the zipper merge,” said Kimberly Qualls, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Transportation officials started looking at the method a year ago but didn’t have time to implement it until this year.
“It’s been amazing how many people have driven through other states and been through a zipper merge,” Qualls said. “This will be the only project it’s on. It’s a pilot project to see how it goes.”
The method uses extra signs and other traffic control equipment, including radar, which crews began installing this week near the construction site.
“It’s going to be up to drivers and their behaviors to make any work zone flow safely and efficiently,” said Qualls, who added that drivers will need to be friendly and take turns.
The advantage of the zipper merge is that it allows traffic to use the closing lane up to the merge point. Traffic doesn’t back up as far and both lanes travel at the same speed, reducing road rage significantly because everyone is equally disadvantaged.
When traffic is light and free-moving, drivers can merge as space allows and not use a zipper merge. The construction zone will have special signs alerting drivers when the zipper merge is in effect.
Kansas officials will use traditional media and social media (@KCMetroKDOT on Twitter and Kansas Department of Transportation - Northeast Kansas on Facebook) to get the word out as well as relying on the help of Overland Park and KC Scout.
The department has a web page that explains the zipper merge.
The $565,385 project is expected to be completed by late November.