FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Officials say misuse of the zipper merge was at the root of Friday's large accident on I-94. We spoke to drivers in the F-M area—and found many have the wrong idea about the right way to zipper merge.
Many in the F-M area say they know the zipper merge, but officials say Friday’s I-94 wreck—involving four pickup trucks—was from doing it wrong.
"Traffic was coming to a stop very far back from where the actual construction zone is,” Capt. Bryan Niewind of the N.D. State Highway Patrol said. “Because traffic is in just one lane, instead of filling up both lanes."
But when used correctly, the zipper merge should actually be safer—and according to the Alberta Motor Association, it can reduce congestion by up to 40 percent.
"We encourage the zipper merging,” Niewind said, “it's something that's changed in our construction zone in the last two years."
Niewind says this is the second year that nearby construction zones are using the zipper merge. But it’s the first year the merging is encouraged in the middle of a heavy-traffic construction zone, like westbound I-94 around the Veterans Boulevard exit.
So how does it work?
Larisa Johnson, a Horace resident we spoke with, says she knows about the zipper merge.
"You take turns letting people in," Johnson said.
She has the correct idea; but when it comes to construction zones, Johnson says she still would immediately jump in the open lane—rather than keep driving in the lane about to close, and merge a bit later on.
The same goes for Fargo resident, Taylor Cable.
"I would say merge before you even get to the closed section," Cable said.
Actually, the zipper merge works the other way around.
"The zipper merge is used let's say when we have a lane closure,” Niewind said. “So...what we expect people to do is stay in both lanes until you get close to where that lane closure is gonna be and then merge together."
Both Johnson and Cable tell Valley News Live that surprises them.
Officials say many of us are just used to the old way of merging. Prior to two years ago, signs in construction zones were saying not to pass after a certain point—but now the goal of the zipper merge is to fill up both lanes and alternate.
Niewind says when drivers move over too soon to the open lane, it causes backup—and that creates ill will to the drivers waiting in the backup, when another driver comes along the closing lane. That driver is then seen as "cutting" ahead.
"The goal is to not create a backup,” Niewind said, “or if you have a backup it doesn't extend so far back away from the construction zone."
That's why it's recommended to utilize both lanes— and zippering in together.
Johnson says she’ll “eventually” try to zipper the correct way.
"Old habits are hard to break," she said.
Luckily driver’s education is keeping younger drivers up to date on the zipper merge. Josiah Ferguson says he caught his mom doing the zipper merge incorrectly—but taught her the right way.
"A zipper merge is the way to go from two lanes to one,” he said, “where you use the entire length of the open lanes before merging, so that more cars can pack in, and it backs up less far down the highway."