by: Graham Johnson Updated:Seattle —
The first day of new lane configurations through Seattle's infamous "Mercer Mess" did not bring the nightmare commute drivers feared, but city officials said traffic Monday was lighter than usual, and gridlock remains possible.
The city has made a number of street revisions to accommodate two years of construction. The most significant is the narrowing of eastbound Mercer Street from four lanes to two. To offset the impact, Broad Street is now re-opened heading eastbound from Seattle Center toward Interstate 5.
These changes accommodate construction for the Mercer West project, which costs $95 million, and comes as the Mercer East project is still being finished. Work on the eastern portion costs $164 million.
The city said when the entire corridor project is complete, overall travel times between the Seattle Center area and I-5 could improve by about a minute, although there are circumstances where traffic models show slightly longer drives.
Reducing travel times is not the primary goal of the project. Instead, the Seattle Department of Transportation said it is to create a sensible street grid system, with Mercer as a two-way arterial, that connects South Lake Union with other neighborhoods.
The entire project must be done by the time the State Route 99 tunnel beneath downtown Seattle opens to traffic, which is estimated for late 2015. The north portal of the tunnel will be in the middle of the Mercer Corridor.
PDF: Mercer West and North Portal (SR 99 Tunnel) Improvements PDF: Map - Mercer Project Roy to Denny