Zippers and work zones – How does that work?

Pilot program coming to two Interstate 81 bridges in Shenandoah County

Zipper Merge Graphic

STAUNTON — The Virginia Department of Transportation Staunton District is launching a pilot program utilizing zipper merges in work zones.

With a zipper merge, traffic entering an active work zone uses both travel lanes up to the single lane closure and then takes turns (operating like two sides of a zipper) at the merge point to form a single lane, traveling past the work zone.

For this pilot project, the zipper merge will only be activated when lengthy queues or traffic congestion form prior to the work zone. Sensors will activate dynamic electronic message boards at key decision points as drivers approach the work zone.  Drivers will be instructed to use all lanes up to the merge point, where they will take turns to merge and form a single lane.  It is expected that traffic will move through the work zone more efficiently with reduced queue lengths and reduced delays.  Under non-congested conditions, motorists will merge to a single lane as they normally would for a work zone.

The first use of the zipper merges will take place during spring 2024 on Interstate 81 in Shenandoah County. VDOT will be performing deck maintenance on the I-81 southbound bridge over Route 600 (Saumsville Road) at mile marker 287.8. Signs related to the work zone will be placed during the week of May 6 using shoulder closures. Beginning on May 13 there will be single lane closures for bridge deck work, lasting for approximately two weeks. Work will be Monday through Friday, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day.

In late May or early June the zipper merge will be used again on I-81 southbound for the bridge over Route 625 (Harman Road) at mile marker 288.1. Bridge deck work with single lane closures lasting approximately two weeks will be performed Monday through Friday, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day.

Both the Route 600 and Route 625 bridges are located between exit 291 at Toms Brook and exit 283 at Woodstock.

“There is a common view that merging early and waiting patiently in a single travel lane before the merge area is correct behavior,” states Staunton District Traffic Operations Director Matt Shiley, P.E. “Rushing ahead of the line in the adjoining lane can be perceived as unsafe or rude.  What we are trying to achieve with the zipper merge under congested conditions is to use all available capacity of both lanes to move traffic more efficiently, reducing the delays for all.”

VDOT frequently sees traffic back-ups during daytime and nighttime work zones. These delays are updated on the VDOT 511 system, which sends alerts stating how many miles of delay exist.

Shiley states that the pilot project will evaluate traffic data and in person field experience so VDOT can see what is working and what can be improved. “It is an ongoing process in all of our traffic operations. We have seen zipper merges work well in other states and we want to give it a chance here to help make I-81 as safe and efficient as possible.”

For more information please view the VDOT zipper merge video

The VDOT Staunton District is on Facebook and X (Twitter). Follow VDOT statewide accounts on Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.

The VDOT Web page is located at

The VDOT Staunton District serves Frederick, Shenandoah, Clarke, Warren, Page, Rockingham, Augusta, Highland, Rockbridge, Alleghany and Bath counties.

Last updated: July 19, 2024

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