Confusion is inevitable on Seattle's second busiest street

Aug 27, 2012

Confusion is inevitable as drivers, bus-riders and cyclists on one of Washington’s busiest roadways face an all-new landscape this week.

The giant road project on Seattle’s Mercer Street – between I-5 and Seattle Center – is entering a new phase. Several streets that have been closed for months are re-opening, while other streets close to traffic until next year.

Rick Sheridan of the Seattle transportation department says the most dramatic change -- hopefully for the better -- will greet anyone taking the Mercer exit off the freeway.

“Motorists will encounter a new Mercer, one that has traffic flowing in both the eastbound and westbound directions -- which will be the first time we’ll have two-way on Mercer in more than four decades,” he says.

The new two-way boulevard is meant to create a less confusing street system, along with helping the South Lake Union neighborhood become more walkable. It won't shorten commute times.

Mercer St. has long been known as the Mercer Mess. At one point, an elevated freeway was proposed for the area.

Mercer is tied with Aurora Ave. as Seattle’s second busiest roadway, says Sheridan. Only the West Seattle Bridge carries more traffic.

Extra cops and extra time

In case the commute gets ugly, Seattle will have traffic cops and stoplight crews on stand-by this week.

“We anticipate there will be a period of time when motorists are adjusting to the new configuration. So, we ask that people have a little patience, give themselves a little extra time,” says Sheridan.

Construction is far from finished. Major streets will remain closed for six to twelve months, including much of Fairview Ave., one of the main feeders to the I-5 ramps.

From the City of Seattle:

  • Detour maps illustrating two-way traffic flow on Mercer St., as well as the Fairview Ave. N restrictions, are available online for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • King County Metro Transit will temporarily reroute Routes 70/71/72/73, 83 and 309 off of Fairview Ave. N. and travel instead on Eastlake Ave. N. A map of the reroute plan is online.
  • If you have comments or complaints, call the transportation department at 684-ROAD.