Highway 16 standoff raises familiar question


The in basket: Stephen Rachner of South Kitsap raises an all too familiar question after encountering some animosity on Highway 16 northbound where paving at the Burley-Olalla interchange project has been closing one of the two lanes.

Traffic backs up for miles in the inside lane, leaving those willing to abide the resulting hostility with room in the right lane to pass those cars in the left lane until the actual point where the right lane ends. Stephen, who must go that way twice a day, says he’s one of them.

The other day, he and everyone else staying in the right lane were getting the finger from a motorcyclist in the inside lane who then pulled into the outside lane after Steve had passed and attempted to block the lane. 

He also had a tense standoff with a school bus whose driver didn’t want to let him in at the merge point, he said, though the bus driver finally relented.

It’s exactly the scenario one can see any weekday afternoon on southbound Highway 3 as it approaches Highway 304 in Bremerton.

But Stephen said he’d read an article in the Tacoma News Tribune a year ago about yet another example of this conflict, the northbound off-ramp from I-5 in Tacoma to westbound Highway 16 at Nalley Valley.

That article, he said, quoted a trooper from Tacoma saying that blocking a lane, as the motorcyclist tried to do, is a citable infraction, as is refusing to make room for someone trying to merge from a lane that is ending into one that is continuing. 

I asked Trooper Krista Hedstrom, spokesman for the State Patrol here, if she agrees.

The out basket: Yes on attempts to block traffic in a travel lane, no on refusing to make room for a merging vehicle, Krista said.

“If a vehicle is in the outer lane and intentionally holding up traffic by stopping so that others cannot get by, you can receive a traffic infraction ($124) for that,” she said. 

She cites RCW 46.61.425, which reads  “No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.” 

RCW 46.61.570 also prohibits it, she said. That’s a law dealing with stopping, standing and parking.  That law has always been incomprehensible to me, beginning with what’s the difference between stopping and standing. It goes on for paragraphs, but ends by saying, “It shall be unlawful for any person to reserve or attempt to reserve any portion of a highway for the purpose of stopping, standing, or parking to the exclusion of any other like person, nor shall any person be granted such right.”

Krista continued, “As for the vehicles who have already merged over possibly being ticketed for not allowing those who wait until the last minute to merge in – not true. 

“Traffic in the outer lane whose lane is ending must merge (yield) to the left.  If they are unable to get over, those already in the lane who merged ahead of time are not obligated to let them in.  It is, however, a common courtesy that we encourage to avoid road rage/altercations – but those drivers who need to merge must stop (where the lane narrows down to one) and wait until they can safely get over.”


Since this column was posted Wednesday, it has drawn a predictable reaction among those commenting, with those excoriating Steve out-numbering those siding with him on use of the right lane. His detractors were obviously a lot angrier than his supporters, some using a common vulgarity to describe him.

To even things up a little, I will repeat what I’ve written often about the merge on Highway 3 coming south past Bremerton, which applies to the Highway 16 backups, as well..

Fill the two lanes equally, drivers, and don’t merge until you have to. If nothing else, it will eliminate the obvious animosity at the merge point because those in the right lane will have crawled along at the same pace as those in the left, and will not be seen as taking advantage of others’ patience. There also is evidence, though not persuasive to everyone, that traffic moves faster when both lanes are used.

11 thoughts on “Highway 16 standoff raises familiar question

  1. I don’t feel sorry for those who speed up to try crunching in at the merges, when others have been sitting there for a length of time, usually due to similar drivers running up and forcing their way into the merges. I had that happen last week in Tacoma. The guy decided he shouldn’t have to wait, and ran up to the merge on the outside lane, and tried to force me off the road; the inside lane, so that he could get into it. Wait your turn people!!! Deal with it! We are all in the same situation, and NOT a one of you are any more important that I, or any other driver may be!

  2. Maybe Steve Rachner should just stop being such a rude person and he would not have to worry about it. I guess that Steve feels he has much more important things to do than all the other drivers who choose to be considerate of one another.

  3. Those people who do as Steve R. does come across as self-centered to the rest of us. It is evident for miles that the lane narrows and unless you are asleep at the wheel, one should notice and move over in a timely manner. To wait until the last minute so that you can pass hundreds of cars is very thoughtless and selfish.

    To expect others to accomodate you is selfish as well. It is as if he or she assumes that his or her time is more valuable than anyone else’s and the rest of us just enjoy waiting in line forever. That’s not the case. So, I say that the Steves of the world should respect the other drivers more.

  4. The key piece of information left out is that mathematically, the fastest way to get cars through the blockage is to use both lanes as long as possible, and then merge smoothly when it becomes necessary. If drivers use courtesy and keep moving so that alternating lanes get through, every other vehicle, that will maximize the efficiency of the highway. I don’t understand why this simple fact is ignored by drivers and WSDOT, with the sign up miles before the merge on southbound Highway 3 as it approaches Highway 304 in Bremerton: “Through Traffic Merge Left”. To maximize efficiency, the sign should read, “Use both lanes as long as possible. Merge when necessary.”

    The other thing that bottles up traffic unnecessarily is drivers who, once they are through the blockage, open several blocks of distance between themselves and the cars ahead. Again, for efficiency, maximizing the movement of vehicles in this situation means you should operate with the appropriate following distance, not 3 -10 times what is necessary.

  5. Sid Lee is right; you should use both lanes all the way to the merge. People should leave some safe distance and allow the merges in a courteous manner. It makes no sense to queue up a mile or two in advance of the merge and lose all that lane capacity.

    This would work fine if people didn’t line up like sheep so early, and if people allowed the merge as if letting someone in line wasn’t the most stressful and selfish thing that would happen to them all day.

    In my driving in other parts of Western Washington, many times more congestion, Kitsap peninsula is the only place where I have seen that “car length” in front of a driver so jealously guarded. These people are just as responsible for the aggressive situations as the people who use both lanes to the merge.

  6. “I don’t understand why this simple fact is ignored by drivers and WSDOT, with the sign up miles before the merge on southbound Highway 3 as it approaches Highway 304 in Bremerton: “Through Traffic Merge Left”. To maximize efficiency, the sign should read, “Use both lanes as long as possible. Merge when necessary.”

    No matter what you wish the sign would say it still states “Merge Left” and those drivers who tend to follow the law do just that. Those who feel that they are somehow special do what ever they want. Steve has his address plainly listed so maybe he might suffer the anger some drivers feel a bit closer to his home.

  7. Travis,

    Perhaps in your dealings with the State Highway people you could suggest that they change the signs at the merge. Instead of the Right Lane Ends sign, change it to an Upside Down Half-Open Zipper. That would give the impression that BOTH lanes are ending, giving both sides equality. Maybe the zipper picture would help educate many drivers on how to do left-right-left-right merging. Then change out that Merge Left sign with ‘Use Both Lanes to the end’. There would not be much of a backup if any, no more road rage, less wasted gas.

    Maybe they could make that stretch of Highway one of those experiments that results in changes all over the country.

  8. I concur with those who recognise traffic engineering principles for merges. On smaller roads, the minor stream is used to effect entry into the priority lane when there’s a slot. On larger roads, the acceleration lane allows drivers to match the speed of the priority lane until they can do so. In order for this to occur, the merging lane should exist at a length which allows suitable give-way control. This creates smaller gaps for passage and has less slowdown effect on the overall stream and maintains traffic flow. Generally…

    Common courtesy and respect have a reasonable place in the driving arena, but misuse of traffic design isn’t the person adhering to its intention.

  9. Boy I sure stirred up some angry sentiment! I too was ignorant of the law until I read an article in the news tribune last year about the north I5 merge with hwy 16 west in Which a trooper commented on using both lanes up until the merge point then alternating cars to smooth things out at the merge. I too used to get angry because I would get in the lane early and watch people pass me until I learned that they were doing the right thing and I was the one who was naive about the law.

  10. Stephen,
    We must have read the same article. I too was one of those ‘get in line early’ guys until I read that article about the state designing it that way and was meant to fill both lanes equally. Now I use the right lane of 3 South and run it out all the way to the end.

    About that same time I spent 3 weeks in Hawaii for work, driving the H1 from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor. Talk about a crowded freeway. We could sure take some ‘polite’ lessons from them. Except for the occasional jerk, probably tourists, they are experts at keeping a good distance, staying in their lane, and keeping off the brakes. Quite often the traffic was only going 15mph, but it was constant. Not stop and go like we see here. They have learned that if you keep some distance and maintain a steady speed, EVERYONE gets home faster.

    If people here could only learn to back off a little and maintain a steady speed, and most of all LEARN TO DO THE ZIPPER at the merge, we would not have a backup at all.

    If one were to actually look at the number of cars going through that section of 3S, it is not that many. But those who insist on speeding up until they are almost touching the car in front of them and then stand on the brakes causing that half-mile chain reaction of brake lights, along with refusing to zipper, are what causes the road to backup in the first place.

  11. Concerning the southbound Highway 3 as it approaches Highway 304 in Bremerton fiasco: How about just fix the cluster-!@#$ and be done with it! Whoever heard of splitting a county in two by making only one lane?

    That was easy!

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