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Drivers are being too nice, and that’s leading to delays on I-94 near DOT-imposed “zipper merge”

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Tuesday, December 9th was the second day the "zipper merge" has been in effect on I-94 near State Fair Park. We've seen delays during rush hour in the zipper merge area, and Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials say drivers might be slowing traffic by being too nice!

A number of drivers say it's one of their biggest pet peeves: drivers waiting until the last second to merge. But DOT officials say the zipper merge works better for everyone when drivers wait to get over.

Backups are nothing new on I-94 during rush hour, but with traffic going from three lanes to two near 68th Street, transportation officials say everyone will get through more quickly if drivers in the left lane merge right as the lane ends.

"I feel like that`s what I lot of jerks do when they`re driving normally. They wait until the last minute before they merge over," Kendra Gordon said.

Drivers are meeting the zipper merge this week as crews get ready for the next part of the Zoo Interchange construction project. In theory, traffic will move more smoothly if drivers use all three lanes until the merge, and then zipper in one at a time.

"I`m thinking that they should have you start merging as soon as you can because the people in the lane that`s closing are gonna try to get in front and it`s gonna slow down everybody else," Stephen Hoyer said.

DOT officials say this resistance to the zipper concept might just be a byproduct of drivers in Wisconsin being too kind.

"Wisconsin drivers and people in general are very polite. We get in line early. We make sure everybody sort of follows the rules," Michael Pyritz with the DOT said.

A FOX6 News crew drove through the zipper merge shortly after 5:00 p.m. Tuesday. While FOX6's vehicle stayed in the left lane until hitting the merge, drivers in front did not. Officials say that's inefficient, but many drivers say it's the right thing to do.

The zipper merge is scheduled to be in place until late 2015.

"We all have to be patient, I guess," Gordon said.

DOT officials say they're aware of some long delays that occurred Monday night, but they believe that'll be the worst, as drivers adjust to the zipper merge process. Officials are encouraging folks to seek out alternate routes.

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7 comments

    • Cheri

      Exactly Tim! The DOT doesn’t seem to know how traffic works at all and always blames the drivers for their own stupid ideas. DOT can DIAF.

      • Squirrel

        Actually, Tim and Cheri, the work has to be done and there’s not enough room there for a proper lane shift to keep three lanes open. Stop and think about merging when a lane ends. If everyone starts merging a half-mile back, you have people sticking themselves in all over the place and the continuing lane backs up even worse while the merging lane empties out. This causes the bottleneck to extend back much further than necessary. If people would properly use the zipper merge technique, the impact would be lessened.

  • Stan

    BS, late mergers make people already in the lane hit the brakes causing a slinky effect going back
    up the line of traffic. People who cut in last minute are dissing everyone else.
    Merge early and do it smoothly.

  • SBugg

    I don’t understand how the DOT is expecting people to understand what the h*** a “Zipper Merge” is when half of the drivers out there can’t even do a regular merge properly…..it is such a mess!! I drive that stretch on a daily basis, and it is the worst stretch after the Miller Park “merge”. I can’t imagine what it is going to look like int he summer months with Brewer games and State Fair, and people trying to get downtown….. I guess I could always take the fancy new trolley that is being installed…….. And the orange lines are a foolish idea as well. They are barely noticeable on regular concrete. If they plan on resurfacing with black top, then maybe it would be ideal.

    • Cp

      I agree most people can’t change lanes or merge as it is. There was no excess capacity on that stretch during rush hour with 3 lanes. It’s going to be a terrible year driving home. Just wait until an accident happens in that stretch. We will never get out of town! WiDOT should go back to the drawing board and come up with a better idea.

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