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New I-95, Mass. Pike merge passes initial test, state says

After seeing promising early results, state transportation officials are extending a pilot program that might lead to permanent removal of the double-merge traffic pattern at the interchange of two of the state’s busiest highways, the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 95, also known as Route 128.

On Tuesday night, state workers replaced cones and barrels at the heavily traveled interchange in Weston with new striping on the roadway, after finding the reconfiguration had reduced driver hesitation at the merging point, officials announced.

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The initial trial period of the single-merge pattern saw an average reduction of 20 minutes from morning drivers’ commuting time, according to a state Transportation Department announcement on the change.

As part of the trial, which started on July 17, officials closed a section of I-95’s northbound right lane to through traffic where drivers from the eastbound side of the Mass. Pike merge onto the highway. The aim was to reduce a traffic bottleneck by dedicating the lane to the eastbound motorists leaving the Pike and heading north.

“The summer results have been encouraging, in terms of reducing traffic delays and cutting associated emissions,” said Frank DePaola, highway administrator for the state’s Department of Transportation. “We have heard from members of the public, and we agree, that we need to evaluate how back-to-school volumes will impact this traffic pattern before a final decision is made to make the pattern permanent.”

While the new arrangement seemed to save 20 minutes for Mass. Pike drivers during the morning commute, it apparently also added one or two minutes to the commute for I-95 northbound drivers, which officials said was expected because of hesitation at the temporary barriers and the digital message boards used during the experimental run.

“By removing the cones, barrels, and boards, and using roadway markings to indicate the lane reduction, MassDOT expects I-95 northbound travel times to decrease and return to a level closer to travel times before the trial started,” officials said in the statement.

One-third of all traffic on I-95 northbound departs at Exit 23-24-25, and a recent traffic count showed 10 percent of vehicles continuing north on I-95 use the right lane, state officials said.

The new traffic pattern is part of an effort with the Federal Highway Administration and local planning agencies to find low-cost changes that reduce congestion.

Driver comments are welcomed, state officials said. Visit the MassDOT blog at blog.mass.gov/transportation for more information.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.
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