The city of Seattle expects to pay millions less than planned for its Mercer Corridor Project.

The city of Seattle expects to pay millions less than planned for its Mercer Corridor Project.

The rebuilding of Mercer and Valley streets, from Dexter to Fairview avenues north, would cost $48 million, compared to an earlier $62 million engineer’s estimate, and $76 million budgeted, managers reported to the City Council on Tuesday.

Councilman Tom Rasmussen said the numbers are good news and warned that the favorable bid climate, in which builders are competing to win contracts in the recession, will end eventually.

Three bids were submitted, with the apparent low bidder Seattle-based Gary Merlino Construction.

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Street work should begin in July or August, said project manager Angela Brady.

Mercer Street is now eastbound only, but will be rebuilt as a two-way boulevard — so cars leaving Interstate 5 have a straight shot west toward Seattle Center, instead of weaving through the area. Those travel times are expected to improve, while eastbound speeds won’t change much.

Valley Street will be converted to a two-lane road, plus bike lanes.

Construction firms often find unexpected problems or seek more reimbursement after work begins, but the city considers its recent savings to be a relatively high cushion. Brady expects a risk of such “change orders” following such a low bid, but said Merlino’s experience in local construction is a plus.

The entire corridor budget is $191 million, which includes $30 million from a federal stimulus grant, plus $32 million in land, fees and other contributions from nearby landowners.

The city is now aiming for a budget of about $161 million, which includes land, contingency funds, demolition, planning and management costs.

So far this spring, seven of eight old buildings alongside Mercer have been demolished to make room for future lanes. Mercer is to be finished in 2012 and Valley in 2013.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com