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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


More on merging

The topic of the short ramp and merge point at Highway 195 and eastbound I-90 generated a flood of reader feedback and even a response from the Washington State Department of Transportation.

That ramp can’t be improved right now due to higher priorities and shortness of available funds.  Discussion of the inherent dangers there, however, will improve awareness and remind drivers to adapt the skills needed for successful negotiation of that merge.  Besides taking into consideration the ramp’s line of sight to the freeway, tight curve and shortness, it behooves drivers to remember the basics of merging.

If possible, freeway traffic should move left to accommodate a merging vehicle, but please remember that it is the merger who must yield right of way to traffic already upon the freeway.

Though it’s the merger’s legal requirement to yield, traffic upon the freeway has a responsibility to act legally and predictably.  As reader J.E. puts it, “First, the downhill I-90 traffic in the right lane must leave appropriate following distances between cars. This allows merging traffic the space it needs to enter the lane.  With lesser following distances, the merging is still manageable but becomes much less safe for the existing traffic.”

Indeed, drivers regularly fail to maintain adequate following distances during much of their driving, especially on freeways.  At freeway speeds, a following “distance” of 3 to 4 seconds behind other cars (the time it takes you to pass a stationary object they just passed) allows sufficient room for avoiding contact during unexpected stops.  If your time interval behind another vehicle deteriorates to 2 seconds or less, you are not only too close to make a successful emergency stop, you are leaving too little space for a vehicle to effect a well-timed merge into traffic.

J.E. has a recommendation for the mergers too, stating, “Merging traffic from 195 must try to be at freeway speed by the merge point.  Most people don’t understand that it is much easier (and safer!) to merge when your speed is very close to the speed of traffic.  This is true for any ramp — use the ramp to get to freeway speed!  With focus, even on that short ramp it is manageable to get up to 55 by the merge point.  At that speed, small adjustments by existing traffic and the merging vehicle create a safe merge.”

I couldn’t have said that any better myself.  The ramps are in place for the purpose of building enough speed to closely match the speed of the traffic upon the road that one is about to enter.  With a concerted effort, a driver should be able to time his or her merge just ahead of or just behind a chosen vehicle upon the freeway (providing that freeway drivers don’t modify their speed to “accommodate” the merge).

In a similar way, exit chutes usually provide sufficient room for slowing so that vehicles can take exits at freeway speed, AND THEN slow down on the ramp.  During ride-alongs, I’ve even heard Washington State Patrol Troopers express their disgruntlement over drivers who slow down early.

If all drivers would adhere to the basics and hone their relevant skills, merges would be better and safer.  Unfortunately, simple observation shows me that some drivers still timidly stop at the end of the ramps and others merge without looking at all.  I’ve even seen drivers stop on the freeway to “courteously” let a merger enter.  Sadly, this failed attempt at courtesy is very discourteous to other freeway traffic not expecting the illegal and illogical behavior.

It’s been discussed and established that the 195/I-90 ramp presents special challenges for drivers by design.  It’s also been mentioned that there are some alternative routes available, offering drivers several ways to avoid using that ramp.  If you are not “at the top of your game” when it comes to merges, I would suggest exploring those alternatives.

While I’m capable of safe driving at that location, I still generally avoid it because of the unpredictable and unsafe actions taken there by many drivers — some who are likely experiencing that ramp for the very first time.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at