After months of construction, the first day of Seattle's new two-way Mercer Street was, well, a mess.
For months, Seattle’s transportation planners have been promising that a reconfigured Mercer Street would fix the age-old “Mercer Mess.”
But after months of construction, the first day of the new two-way Mercer Street on Monday was, well, a mess.
“We’re seeing some driver confusion, especially in the westbound direction,” said Rick Sheridan, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). “They are not understanding that Mercer is two-way.”
Despite posted signs and months of notifications, some westbound drivers tried to go north on Fairview Avenue North and then west on Valley Street, only to discover that turning left onto Valley Street was not permitted.
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Or, they tried to go south on Fairview, only to find they couldn’t do that. Police officers tried to reroute drivers onto detour routes, but traffic backed up badly.
With both directions of Mercer Street now open, drivers leaving Interstate 5 can continue straight toward Seattle Center, instead of turning right and then snaking west along Valley Street.
Meanwhile, Fairview Avenue North has been reduced to just one northbound lane, from Harrison Street to Mercer Street, for construction.
The city is adding more signs that tell people that if they want to go north or south, they should head west on Mercer Street, which is now a two-way boulevard for the first time since 1968. They then can turn right or left onto Ninth Avenue or Westlake Avenue North.
Frustrated commuters Monday vented on Twitter.
“Congrats #Seattle, we can now call the #mercermess the #fairviewmess. Oh hell, ‘the entire SLU-mess!’ ” tweeted LittleLeslieM.
Doug Buser wrote to the state Department of Transportation on Twitter: “#Mercermess still a mess! Do we get our money back?”
But Sheridan said the two-way street will be better once drivers get used to it.
“It’s just going to take a period of time,” Sheridan said. “We understand people’s frustration.”
The Mercer Mess took its toll on Interstate 5 southbound traffic Monday morning, too. Motorists dealt with long backups at the Mercer Street exit, according to the state Department of Transportation.
By about 5:30 p.m., Monday, traffic was moving more smoothly. Traffic police at Westlake Avenue North and Mercer Street whistled drivers experimenting with a new westbound route through the intersection to get things moving as efficiently as they could.
The newly configured Mercer Street opened to traffic Sunday night, hours ahead of schedule. SDOT completed pavement, striping and signal work more quickly than expected, allowing the early opening.
The $164 million project continues into 2013, when Valley Street will be rebuilt as a two-lane arterial plus bikeways. A $98 million “Mercer West” project will stretch the new two-way boulevard under Aurora Avenue North, reaching the Lower Queen Anne area.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.