December 2, 2023
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In order to increase safety and mobility in highway work zones, the Arizona Department of Transportation is testing a “smart work zone” at an existing Interstate 40 bridge project located between Flagstaff and Winslow.

[Above photo by the Arizona DOT.]

The agency said in a statement that a “smart work zone” is a traffic management system controlled remotely through computer networks, portable message boards, and sensor technology to provide motorists with real-time traffic information as they approach construction work zones.

Photo by the Arizona DOT

Arizona DOT plans to gather crash and vehicle speed data from this smart work zone and compared to similar data collected from traditional work zones to evaluate the impact and inform decisions on future highway projects.

The agency noted this smart work zone uses both a “dynamic merge system” to improve work zone traffic flow.

The first part of that system includes “dynamic lane merges” to help mitigate the potential hazards of lane closures by altering the time to merge based on the current level of traffic. When traffic is light, electronic signs placed well ahead of the work zone encourage drivers to merge into the open lane prior to the lane closure.

[Editor’s note: the Illinois Department of Transportation created the video below to describe how a dynamic lane merge system works.]

When traffic is heavy, the Arizona DOT said its dynamic lane merge system encourages motorists to remain in the closed lane for as long as possible in what is known as a “zipper merge.”

The agency noted it has used zipper merges for nearly five years now and they work by having drivers remain in their lanes and merge just before the lane closure begins. “It’s a more efficient way of moving heavy traffic through a work zone where a lane is closed,” the Arizona DOT noted.

[Editor’s note: the Nebraska Department of Transportation created the video below to describe how a dynamic lane merge system works.]

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