Ramp closures

Ramp closures are the temporary, part-time (for specific parts of the day), or permanent closure on highway entrance or exit ramps. Ramps are typically closed where interchanges are spaced closely together, regular congestion occurs on the highway, a high-collision rate occurs at the ramp, or on ramps with compromised visibility.  

Key characteristics

Setting/Location

Corridor, Urban, Suburban, Rural

Technology

Collaboration

WSDOT regions

North Central

Strategy description

Agencies typically consider closing an entrance or exit ramp at locations where the roadway design is compromising safety.

Reasons for closing a ramp:

Temporary:

  • During a special event or construction
  • During a winter weather event with a highway closure
  • When a traffic incident occurs

Part-time:

  • During specific times of day when highway congestion is high

Permanent:

  • Due to a collision and or congestion problem. After considering other alternatives, ramps are permanently closed when the benefits of closure outweigh the impacts.

Temporary or part-time ramp closures are more common because they have less impact on traffic patterns. They can be implemented manually using barricades and warning signs placed prior to the closure. They may also be automated using traffic gates and advanced electronic signs.

Permanent closures of entrance or exit ramps are rare because they can significantly impact existing travel patterns. It can take a long time for a community to evaluate whether to permanently close ramps as the real and perceived negative social and economic impacts typically outweigh the benefits. Permanent ramp closures can cause travelers to use other local and neighborhood streets to access the highway from another ramp. This can potentially cause the diverting traffic to increase travel times, congestion, and emissions.

When to use this strategy

Ramp closures make sense for:

  • Entrance or exit ramps that experience a high number of collisions
  • Highways with recurring congestion and a high number of collisions near the ramp
  • Entrance or exit ramps that are spaced closely with other ramps

Little research is available about the benefits of ramp closures.

Assumed strategy benefits include:

  • Reduced side-swipe and rear-end collisions
  • Reduced congestion and improved travel times on the highway due to fewer merge points for vehicles entering the highway
  • Increased capacity to move more vehicles since there are fewer on-ramps with vehicles entering the highway

When considering a ramp closure, consider these potential negative impacts:

  • Vehicles using local and neighborhood streets to access another ramp, and causing congestion on these smaller roadways
  • Longer distances to travel to reach a nearby ramp, leading to:
    • Increased fuel consumption and emissions from vehicles traveling farther to enter the highway
    • Impacts to local businesses and communities losing access to near-by ramps

What you need in order to implement

Policy needs:

  • A ramp closure policy may be necessary if the ramp will be closed temporarily or permanently to specific types of vehicles, such as trucks, transit, or high-occupancy vehicles

Planning needs:

  • Analyze the problem based on the time-of-day and the impact on safety and mobility
  • Assess the severity of the community impacts, including social, economic, and environmental
  • Consider the impacts of traffic diverting to another ramp or local street
  • Evaluate the options of a temporary, time-of-day, or permanent closure
  • Consider other ramp management strategies, such as ramp metering, before choosing to close a ramp
  • Consider closing the ramp temporarily as a test effectiveness before implementing a permanent closure

Coordination needs:

  • Collaborate with local agencies to evaluate the impacts on local streets
  • Coordinate with local politicians to understand the political impacts
  • Discuss with the local community to understand the social and economic impacts on businesses and neighborhoods

Equipment needs:

  • Temporary or time-of-day closures require barricades and advanced signs. Agencies may install the equipment manually, or automate the system using gates. Agencies will either close the gates remotely from a traffic management center, or manually at the location to ensure that the conditions are safe to close the gates.
  • For permanent ramp closures, the equipment could include a one-time installation of a traffic barrier. Agencies often prefer to remove the closed ramp to avoid confusion.
  • Install advanced signs for temporary or time-of-day closures to notify drivers of the closed entrance or exit ramp

Maintenance needs:

  • Automated gate closure systems use monitoring cameras, electronic message signs, and traffic detectors. The agency must maintain the gates, advanced signs, monitoring cameras, and traffic detectors.

Agency resources needs:

  • For manual ramp closures, agency personnel must deploy the barricades and signage to close the ramp

Learn more about this strategy

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Ramp Management and Control Handbook (PDF).

Minnesota DOT, Model Concept of Operations, Remotely Operated and Dynamic Systems for Road Closures and Advisory Messages in Remote Areas (PDF).

About key characteristics

Location notes:

Ramp closures are useful for highways, primarily in urban areas, where closely spaced interchanges/ramps experience high collision rates and recurring congestion. Suburban highways with similar issues are a secondary candidate for ramp closures. In rural areas, an entrance ramp closure may be used in hazardous winter weather conditions.  

Cost notes:

Temporary ramp closure costs depend on the manual or automated nature of the closure, length of time, and resources needed. Permanent ramp closures can have a medium cost because agencies typically prefer to physically remove the ramp and make other improvements on the local street system to accommodate diverted traffic.

Technology notes:

Permanent closures can be implemented without technology. Temporary or part-time ramp closures may use some technology when electronic message signs and or gates are used to close a ramp under specific conditions. Agencies may also choose to implement ramp metering as an alternative or additional strategy.

Collaboration notes:

Ramp closures require a high level of collaboration with a broad stakeholder group including local transportation agencies, the community, local businesses, and elected officials. Attempting to close a ramp becomes political because the local community and businesses who use the current on-ramp will have concerns about the additional travel needed to get to the next nearest on-ramp.

Conditions this strategy addresses