Tennessee Drivers to Merge Sooner at Construction Zones

Tue April 12, 2005 - Southeast Edition

FAIRVIEW, TN (AP) Drivers approaching construction zones on Tennessee interstates and highways soon may be ticketed if they do not merge into the proper lane quickly enough under a new Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) program.

TDOT’s “Merge Left” program will require drivers to move into the left lane of traffic in every construction zone as soon as they see signs telling them to merge. The program is designed to make work zones safer and less confusing to drivers and to aid the traffic flow through the zones, TDOT Chief of Environment and Planning Ed Cole said.

“Every second traffic has to stop to let someone merge at the last second causes multiple delays for the line behind them,” he said.

Drivers will be expected to start merging when they see an orange road sign that says “Merge Left.” They will have 2 mi. to completely merge, after which they will see signs that say “Do Not Pass In Right Lane.”

“[Two miles] is much longer than the current design — that’s what makes it safer,” TDOT Spokeswoman Kim Keelor said at a news conference at an unopened section of state Road 840 about 30 miles southwest of Nashville.

Late mergers could be ticketed after the do-not-pass sign under Tennessee’s no-passing-zone laws.

The program only will be implemented in new road construction projects, and will not affect existing work sites. Cole said it would be too expensive and take too long to modify existing construction zones.

Paul Broughton, a semi-truck driver from Ontario, Canada, traveling through Tennessee, said he believes= the new program will help traffic move more smoothly through work zones.

“Truckers will talk on the radio to see which lane is closed, and then they get over,” he said as he pumped gas at a truck stop near Interstate 40 in Williamson County. “Then the lane that’s closing moves faster and other drivers wait until the last second to get over.”

Some of the first construction projects that will feature the “Merge Left” program will be summer road repaving projects, Cole said.

Similar programs have been implemented in Arkansas and Washington.

Department of Safety Commissioner Fred Phillips said state troopers will take the new program “very seriously” when patrolling work zones.

“Over the past three years, 99 drivers have died in Tennessee work zones,” he said. “Highway work crews also become victims.”