A digital sign on Interstate 74 ahead of a bridge construction site advises motorists to use both lanes and to take turns at the point of merger. Iowa-bound drivers should expect only one lane on the I-74 bridge to be open as workers continue a bridge-washing and rehabilitation project until October. (Kevin E. Schmidt/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Kevin E. Schmidt

If everyone would please take their seats, we can get started.

Today's lesson: When to merge into a single-file line for a lane closure and when to use both lanes until the last minute.

Let's all open our minds to Page 1 of "Getting It Right On Interstate 74" (by A. Harry Mess).

We've all been there, sitting hostilely behind the wheel in a single line of traffic that appears to span the entirety of the Midwest. We glance nervously at the gas gauge (only half a tank!) when a car whizzes past in the right lane.

Shut the front door!

We spot a pickup ahead, straddling both lanes of traffic to prevent that jerk from getting to the front of the line, and we silently thank the pickup driver: Way to go, Buddy!

Not so fast.

There's a new sign in town, and it may just change everything.

The Illinois DOT has placed a message board on Interstate 74 in Moline, approaching the lane closure for work on the bridge. It states: "Use both lanes. Take turns at merge."

That's crazy talk, right? Everybody knows the proper way to handle a lane closure is to merge into the good lane as soon as humanly possible.

Evidently not.

We're so inadequate at navigating lane closures, the DOT is now spelling it out for us on large lighted signs: "Use both lanes." It might as well say, "Use both lanes, Dummies."

But that's cool. We can take instruction.

Jan Amyette, of Bettendorf, is a retired Moline business owner who has had more experience with lane closures on the I-74 bridge than she cares to count.

"I've battled that bridge for 26 years," she said. "It's so exasperating. I remember feeling angry at those people using the empty lane. Even though I would love to sneak over into the other lane, I feel guilty."

Aha! Therein lies our problem: We are too polite. We would rather spend an extra half hour in a single line, cursing the passers, than risk the crooked eye from a stranger in another car. The fix for this is fairness: If everybody takes a tooth in the so-called "Zipper" system, everyone (supposedly) wins.

"This is something I've seen done in Pennsylvania on a project, and we've talked about it over the years," explained John Wegmeyer, project implementation engineer for Illinois DOT. "We're trying to eliminate long backups and trucks and other vehicles trying to straddle the lanes."

The Zipper won't work in every lane closure, he said. The one on I-74 right now is ideal, because the off-ramps are closed, so it won't slow motorists who are trying to exit the interstate. Plus, using two lanes will cut the line in half, reducing cluster problems at interchanges, such as Avenue of the Cities in Moline.

"Once people get used to it, it seems to work well," Wegmeyer said. "As long as traffic alternates at the merger, it should go more smoothly."

I'm no psychiatrist, but I play one in this column. And I feel certain we would all be benefit emotionally if we would take our good manners to the front of the line.

If that doesn't work, I know where to find Wegmeyer.

Contact Barb Ickes at (563) 383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.