New 'zipper merge' sign: What does that even mean?

DURHAM (WTVD) -- NCDOT and North Carolina State researchers are studying the effectiveness of the "zipper merge." The rather unique sign was installed 2 weeks ago where NC 147 meets southbound I-85. It has also been installed on NC 58 just before the bridge into Emerald Isle in Carteret County.

In a zipper merge, drivers are supposed to merge by using both lanes - as one would with using a zipper. A representative from the NCDOT says the signs are an experiment in a study about traffic congestion. Researchers say the zipper merge can reduce traffic congestion by up to 50 percent.

Drivers in Durham County said the sign creates confusion.

"I wouldn't think to do that just by looking at the sign," Shannon Blue told ABC11.

Blue is from Hillsborough and thinks NCDOT "should choose a different sign. Something else because it looks inappropriate. Doesn't look like what it seems."

The particular stretch of highway was chosen because of the right lane drop and the amount of congestion in this area when traffic is heavy. Researchers have seen success with the sign in Michigan and Minnesota.


The same type of success is hoped to be seen here in the Triangle, but it will apparently come at the cost of confusing more drivers. When asked about what the sign means, Orange County resident Drew Lemaster replied, "What the heck is that? What does it mean I'm supposed to do? I don't want to get in trouble for not doing something."

NCDOT officials are hopeful the zipper merge will allow drivers to successfully use both lanes and that drivers will stay in their respective lanes until it's time to actually merge.

Drivers are also being asked to be "courteous" and "to not be offended" if someone "cuts in line."

According to NCDOT, the cost, including employee labor, is roughly $11,000 and is not being pulled from DOT funds. A representative said drivers can expect to see the signs in Durham County for at least another three weeks.

Once that is complete, engineers and researchers, along with the DOT, will study the results to determine whether that's beneficial in that particular area. Furthermore, if DOT determines the zipper merge a success, it's likely the sign will appear in other parts of the state as well.

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