Michael from Aurora writes, “What's driving you crazy? Why are the meter lights on the on ramps not staggered? As it is, both green lights come on at the same time, making it a drag race to see who can get on the freeway first.”
I’ve been in that same situation, Michael. You are there, first in line at the meter light and you have just a few seconds to decide if you or the driver next to you will try to be first out onto the freeway. It is just my nature to let the other driver go ahead of me. Sometimes I will make eye contact with that other driver to indicate they should go first. Not everyone is like that.
I’ve been to cities where the meter lights are set up to allow for an alternate flow of traffic from the ramps and it seems to work well. CDOT has been operating freeway entrance ramp signals since the early 1990s. CDOT’s Stacia Sellers tells me while some agencies around the nation operate ramp metering systems by staggering the release of vehicles, ramp meters in the Denver area have operated with both lanes releasing at the same time, beginning with the earliest installations over 30 years ago.
“Within that time, we have not found that this type of operation has a quantifiable negative impact on safety,” said Sellers.
Safety is the main point there. Traffic engineers presume drivers are responsible enough to determine who will go first and who will go second.
The main reason CDOT wants to leave the metering ramps the way they are is it would be very expensive to change it. Federal guidelines require that new ramp meter installations in which both lanes are not released simultaneously, be constructed with overhead signals. To do that at most of the older meter lighted ramps, CDOT would need to spend approximately $50,000-$75,000 per site in upgrade costs. When you multiply that much money by the over 100 ramp metering sites in the Denver metro area that would require improvements, the cost is just too high.
“Modifications to the control system software and to the controllers, signal equipment, and wiring at more than for which no funding is identified at this time,” Sellers said.
So even though it might be a good idea to have drivers enter the freeway in a staggered way, drivers leaving the stop bar at the current metered lights will have to still determine between each other rather quickly which of the two will go first.
Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , Google Play or Podbean.