Mercer Mess Update – Fairview Ave North to Remain Open

Drivers leaving South Lake Union will catch a break Monday evening and all the way through February, because the city is trying to postpone construction closures on nearby Fairview Avenue North.

“We’re looking at early March,” says Angela Brady, Mercer Corridor Project manager for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Eventually, only one lane of Fairview northbound and two southbound will be open between Harrison and Mercer streets — a squeeze that is likely to lengthen the traffic queues on Fairview that already exist. Earlier in the day, some traffic flowed smoothly and some traffic snarled, as the SDOT pulled off a big Mercer switcheroo.

Mercer Street’s four eastbound lanes were shifted over the weekend into three lanes of new pavement that will eventually be the westbound lanes, when the conversion to a two-way boulevard is done late this year. In 2013, winding Valley Street will be converted to a thin, two-lane road with bike lanes, to complete the $164 million “Mercer East” phase from Dexter Avenue North to the freeway. Mercer Street west of Dexter is to be rebuilt mid-decade.

Signal-timing woes early in Monday’s commute caused incoming traffic from Interstate 5 to back up onto the freeway. King County Metro Transit reported 10-20 minute delays for its Route 70 buses heading from the Eastlake neighborhood to downtown.

After technicians tweaked the signals, vehicles moved more easily between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Eastbound traffic to I-5 was lighter than normal. Brady said the change went well overall Monday, but there were “a few challenges” with signals that were fixed in time for afternoon.

Contrary to an earlier map, the city and contractor Gary Merlino Construction are keeping open the block of Terry Avenue North between Mercer and Valley streets. This provides another outlet for drivers between Mercer and Lake Union.

Walking conditions already have improved somewhat, because pedestrians can reach some of the project’s vast new sidewalks that are up to 24 feet wide.

New detours were enlivened by routine chaos. Just before 11 a.m., a truck lost a steel pushcart that tumbled out the back into traffic entering I-5, so workers rushed to grab it. A traffic cop admonished two men jaywalking across Fairview near the freeway junction. “It’s just too dangerous!” he warned.

Brady said the city will install fencing near the junction, and paint crosswalk stripes across old Mercer, to channel pedestrians into the safe crossing zones.

Three urban planners from New York City toured the area Monday, as part of research funded by the national Centers for Disease Control to promote urban walking. They admired park benches the city installed next to Amazon’s new campus on Terry Street, as well as Seattle efforts to promote bicycling.

A longtime goal is now within sight — to connect the booming neighborhood south of Mercer to Lake Union Park, explained tour leader Lyle Bicknell, a principal urban designer for Seattle.

As the Monday afternoon commute began, bus rider Hope McPherson said her trip north on a No. 17 bus, taking Westlake Avenue North, went faster than usual. Extra traffic police, as well as city traffic engineers, were monitoring the patterns Monday afternoon, Brady said.

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