Navigating Complicated Highway Interchanges and Ramps
Most of the more complicated exit/entry ramps are on heavily travelled city freeway interchanges in which major highway routes join each other or split off from each other. Among my most memorable are elevated ramps connecting to highways that are also elevated on viaducts leading over and between densely built urban structures. Some ramps are long, flowing and seem to blend with the highways that they finally connect to. Others are abrupt, short and sharply curved. Some ramps exit their originating highways from the left lane(s), and others from the right lane(s). Some terminate on the left lane(s) of their destination highway, while others terminate on the right lane(s). Also, left lane as well as right lane exit ramps terminate onto minor highways and surface streets.
Some ramps are single-lane and others multi-lane. Some split, requiring drivers to choose the ramp leading to their destination highway or surface street, and in the case of multi-lane ramps, to change ramp lanes.
Some ramps join with one or more other ramps, requiring one or more vehicle merges. When two ramp lanes converge so one lane is terminated, vehicles originating from the remaining lane usually have the right of way. The rule to yield to vehicles on drivers’ left may also come into play. If you approach my truck from a terminating ramp on my right (my “blind side”), your safest maneuver is to slow down and get behind me. Depending on our speeds, we may not have room for me to slow down enough to let you in front. If you approach my truck from a terminating ramp on my left, there is a better chance that I can slow down to let you in front of me, depending on our relative positions.
Because of the ramps’ twisting paths and tangled layouts and the congestion on them, speeds are generally slower than highway speeds. Speeds decrease to stop-and-go in rush hours and in construction and accident backups. Drivers typically cooperate in their maneuvers, changing lanes and merging in alternating fashion.
Interchange and ramp signs are critical to staying on route, especially for truck drivers because of the size and maneuverability limitations of their trucks. OTR (over the road) drivers who travel these interchanges and ramps infrequently have the additional challenge of unfamiliarity and are particularly dependent on signs. I am always on high alert to follow signs on these interchanges and ramps, because recovering from a missed entry, exit or turn can be very difficult and time-consuming.
Moreover I favor signs over the GPS systems on my trucks because in my experience, GPS too often gets “confused” and provides tardy, ambiguous, incorrect and/or impractical directions. I am especially wary of relying on GPS in areas containing low bridges and other obstacles, such as New York City and Chicago.
On these interchanges and ramps you may want to be extra cautious around trucks and as I do, treat the directions from your GPS system as subordinate to information provided by the signs.
When I Enter a Controlled Access Multi-Lane Highway From a Left Entry Ramp
If you’re driving in the right lane of a multi-lane highway (with three or more lanes in each direction), my truck merging onto your highway from a left entry ramp is not an immediate concern. However once on your highway, I will usually want to move out of the left lane(s) to a middle or right lane. This may put you in a caution zone or risk zone and you will want to take appropriate precautions (see the Caution Zone and Risk Zone tips). Also, occasionally your lane may terminate after a left entry interchange, requiring a lane change to your left. Again you will want to be aware of and careful in entering caution zones and/or risk zones around my truck.
When Two Interchange Ramps Join to Form a New Highway Route
A merge situation that does demand your immediate attention is when you are on an interchange ramp that joins with another interchange ramp on your left to form a new highway route, and I am on that other ramp. Speeds on these ramps are typically lower than highway speeds, making it easier for us to merge and sort ourselves out. But any merging and lane changing must still be performed with caution, especially around big trucks. Merging from the left interchange ramp and changing lanes to the right, I will see your vehicle less well on my right (blind) side. My lane change(s), combined with your staying in a right lane or moving to your left may put you in a caution zone or risk zone (see the Caution Zone and Risk Zone tips).
Stay alert, flexible and cooperative on complicated interchanges and exit/entry ramps.
On complicated exit/entry ramps be extra cautious around trucks, whose drivers may not be familiar with their twisting paths and tangled layouts.
If you’re in the right or middle lane of a multi-lane highway, watch for trucks entering from a left entry ramp and then changing lanes to the right and putting you in caution or risk zones.
After an interchange ramp that you’re on has joined with another ramp on your left to form a new highway route, watch for trucks from that ramp changing lanes to their right and putting you in caution or risk zones.