NUNICA, Mich. (WOOD) - Though summer construction season is still a few months away, the Michigan Department of Transportation is taking steps now to make sure drivers follow the rules in construction areas.
The new dynamic late lane merge system is basically a series of signs along the highway before construction zones that instruct drivers to change lanes early and merge well before the road narrows to one lane.
It's safer for drivers and prevents driver aggression, MDOT spokesman John Richard said.
MDOT is trying to prevent the frustrating circumstance when most drivers slow and merge early only to have a few drivers zip past and then cut in line.
"The early merge system gets people over into the open lane sooner," Richard said.
One of the locations where MDOT is testing the system is along eastbound I-96 near the M-231 project near Nunica.
It utilizes a series of signs set up well before the work zone that flash when drivers can no longer pass.
"There are five signs that say 'do not pass when flashing.' The one closest to the work zone is always flashing. So as traffic gets heavier and that open lane builds up, it activates the other signs," said Richard.
In theory, the signs help control speed and reduce the "zipper effect" at the point of construction as drivers can no longer cut the line.
"And they assume someone is going to let them in and that creates assumption and driver aggression. So this system greatly reduces that," Richard said.
But flashing or not, a sign is just a sign. So local authorities will be on hand to ticket those who fail to wait their turn. One Ottawa County deputy pulled over three drivers in the time 24 Hour News 8 was on the I-96 scene.
"They've been out there every day making sure people go 60 miles per hour," said driver Jamie Traxler, who often drives that stretch of highway.
She says the system is working.
"It's very clear. They tell you what lane you need to be in plenty of time ahead, so it's not too bad," she said.
There are differing opinions within MDOT on how effective the new system is at keeping traffic flow up in the work zone. Some believe the "zipper effect" actually moves things along a bit faster. MDOT is studying that theory, as well.
But everyone agrees on the safety aspects of the system and reducing road rage.
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