Rush-hour drives across Saint John's Harbour Bridge will continue to crawl along for longer than anticipated.
All four lanes were expected to open by Oct. 15, but that's been delayed several weeks, perhaps until Nov. 30, said Mark Taylor, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.
He said the work, a multi-year project that started in June, revealed "some unique challenges which have required extra time to address. We are taking the extra time to complete the work properly."
This first phase, which will be spread over two construction seasons, has a $7.3-million price tag. Both eastbound lanes have been closed since June, so one of the westbound lanes has been converted to carry eastbound traffic.
Taylor said the bridge, built in 1968, "requires rehabilitation to extend its service life and operational capacity."
With about 37,000 vehicles crossing each day, Taylor said, the Harbour Bridge is one of the province's busiest.
He said the travelling public "will enjoy a smoother drive and more resilient bridge when the work is completed."
But in the meantime, it will likely be bumper-to-bumper during rush hour.
At the end of the work day, for example, a long line of westbound traffic is stop-and-go from as far back as the Crown Street off-ramp — all mostly in the right-hand lane.
That, said Mayor Donna Reardon, presents problems for those getting off at the Somerset Street exit — before the bridge, and before the two lanes merge into one. Those drivers end up having to get in line with everyone else, leaving the passing lane largely empty.
The zipper merge
A video on Twitter shows one of those drivers trying to get off at the Somerset Street exit. Instead of lining up in the right-hand lane with everyone else, the driver bypasses dozens of barely moving vehicles before trying to cut through the line to get to the exit.
Along the way, the Twitter poster said other drivers honked, raised their middle finger, and one truck even partially blocked the passing lane.
In the video, the person suggests the "zipper" method of merging would help eliminate the problem. Essentially drivers use both lanes right up until one lane ends. Vehicles then alternate, one-by-one, into the open lane.
The technique is said to maximize available road space, equitably take turns from both lanes, and avoid the kilometres-long single lane, which in Saint John's case, completely blocks the Somerset Street exit.
Even Reardon weighed in on the tweet, saying she's used the zipper method in other large cities. She believes it works well.
The problem here, she suggests, is that most Saint John drivers are too polite; they don't want to be viewed as the jerk who cuts in. And if everyone doesn't use the zipper method, that's exactly how it's viewed for those few who do.
"Part of it is the culture of Saint John is to be very polite and wait your turn," said Reardon.
What isn't working either, she said, is that the Twitter video shows — someone wanting to take the Somerset exit zipping along the open passing lane until the point they have to cut across the full right-hand lane.
"People get upset by that — until they know you're exiting," she said.
Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jill Green, in a video posted to the government of New Brunswick's Twitter feed on Aug. 18, said that at that point, the project was on target to open in mid-October.
She said the work on the westbound lanes includes replacement of some of the expansion joints and the removal of other expansion joints to allow for the installation of link slabs.
Those "link slabs," said Taylor, will help reduce the bumps between sections and result in a smoother ride.
And of course, once all that is done, both lanes will be freshly paved, said Green.