Mercer expected to get even messier this weekend

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SEATTLE - The commute in Seattle Center known as the “Mercer Mess" is about to get more messy.

The project to widen Mercer Street and rebuild the Aurora/Highway 99 overpass starts this weekend and will last two years.  It will displace traffic and affect the lives of people who live and work between South Lake Union and Interbay.

"It's gonna suck," said Mary Jane Man as she drove to work on a recent Friday morning. 

Man's sentiments are widely held.  The project calls for closing Mercer and Aurora near Seattle Center for an entire weekend.  Then traffic on Mercer will be whittled down to two lanes.  That will make already slow traffic crawl at a snail's pace.  Drivers are already wondering how they'll find new ways to get around.

"I think it'll add some time. I'll probably have to go up Queen Anne (to get around the construction)” said Driver Rhoda Dean.

Business owners are worried, too. The owner of Seattle Strength & Performance is worried he'll miss out on new customers exposed to his location at Mercer and Dexter.

"It gives us visibility.  People kind of stop and look, ‘Oh what's going on over there," owner Jay de la Pena said. "We have people who actually get out of their cars and park if it gets really bad -- they'll come in check us out."

 Even people who get around on foot will have to adjust. Brent Kremen lives in South Lake Union and doesn't own a car.  He's worried that construction will cut off his walk to the QFC grocery store west of his apartment on Mercer.  He's looking at the expense of delivery or public transit.

 "I have to schlep on the bus. Which I do all the time, but this time I have to either have a bunch of groceries with me, have trouble getting them on the bus or I have to get a ride from someone," Kremen said.

The SDOT manager of the Mercer project said there's no doubt, it's going to take more time to get around.

 "In a perfect world if everybody knew the shortest routes and went that way and took advantage of that, it could be as short as (two minutes)”, said SDOT project manager Eric Tweit.  "But I really think you need to expect at least five to 10 minutes more on your trip."

When the project is complete in two years, Mercer will go from a four-lane, one-way street to a two-way, six-lane street. It will have separated bike lanes and wide sidewalks.  In 2016, the new Highway 99 tunnel being bored beneath Seattle will also connect to Mercer.

Tweit said there will be extra police directing traffic starting Monday morning.  He said they'll be in place for a few days as people get used to the detours.  Tweit also said there'll be people handing out maps at Seattle Center and nearby garages to help people figure out how to get around.

A detour map illustrating Mercer Street lane restrictions and pedestrian detours beginning May 20 is available online for vehicles at:

www.seattle.gov/transportation/mercercorridor.htm    

www.seattle.gov/transportation/mercercorridor.htm