PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Blue skies, sunshine and an open road ahead.
It’s the story of summertime on the Interstate highways of Pennsylvania. Suddenly, there is a spot of orange on the horizon, and as you get closer, the words come into focus: LANE CLOSED AHEAD.
Around here, the reaction is almost automatic as drivers in the Bridgeville rest area told KDKA:
“I just look ahead and gradually merge over.”
“I start looking to get into that lane before I get there.”
“I stay in the lane that’s open when I see the sign.”
“It’s best to get over as soon as you can.”
Construction zone after construction zone, the result is miles of backed-up, crawling tires in the lane that will remain open, while the lane that will be closing remains miles of available asphalt.
With a hint of disgust in his voice, Steve Malanosky, of Daisytown, said, “I don’t drive up to the barrier and try to move in.”
The indignant attitude towards anyone who would think to go to the merge point and expect to get in is universal.
“It’s kind of rude, I think, for the people who waited that whole two miles,” said one driver.
“It’s not courteous to everybody else,” added another.
“It’s being rude,” said a third driver.
The result of those who use the open lane is an abundance of single-finger waving, and drivers taking traffic control into their own hands.
PennDOT District 11 Traffic Engineer Todd Kravits says, “We have a lot of people who drive down the middle of the road so nobody passes them. You often see tractor trailers doing that. All that does is foster aggressive driving and other things we don’t want to see on the roadways, road rage and things like that.”
Pennsylvania State Tpr. Forrest Allison says, “Sometimes they block traffic and hold up other vehicles.”
But the blockers believe its in the drivers best interest, “If everyone merges in and stays at one speed, you move through a lot faster,” says Malanosky.
Kravits could not disagree more, “You actually get through the work zone quicker if you use both lanes and you take your turn to merge.”
And Tpr. Allison says blocking is illegal, “You are not permitted to impede traffic you could be charged with a violation of the traffic laws. The best and safest practice is to use both lanes to the merge point.”
A driver caught blocking the open lane could face a ticket of $130, plus costs. In addition Tpr. Allison says causing traffic to back up in a single lane can extend the cue back past the warning signs that a construction zone is ahead. That causes drivers to arrive at highway speed at the rear of the back up and risks serious accidents. Especially if the cue extends back around a curve.
A trucker from New Martinsville, West Virginia, says, “In a perfect world, if everyone would work together, it would go faster. If one car would go, and then the next car would let somebody over, and well you know, but we don’t live in a perfect world, obviously.”
To the contrary, when the traffic backs up, so do blood pressures behind the wheel, and when it comes to the merge point, and cars want to merge the Bridgeville rest area drivers say:
“Will you let them in? NO!”
“I think it causes an issue. Will you let them in? Yeah, depending on if they are really ignorant, then NO.”
“You want to be courteous, but you don’t want 20 people to skip in front of you.”
“Will you let them merge? Absolutely not.”
But that resolve only goes so far.
“I don’t want to be in an accident.”
Jim Mollohan has been driving for a lifetime professionally and personally. He once drove tour buses, and says regardless of what you are driving, don’t be afraid to go all the way to the merge point, which is supposed to act like a traffic zipper.
He says, “They always let you in. Actually, they let you in better at the zipper than they do half way up the cue.”