Could Mercer Mess money be better used elsewhere?

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The Mercer Street Corridor Project will have cost about $250 million by the time it’s complete, but since it’s come to light the project will not greatly improve commute times, there have been questions about whether the money should have been spent elsewhere.

Seattle Department of Transportation officials have admitted that congestion will continue on Mercer after its reopening Monday, and even after the project is complete, travel times won’t improve very much.

“They should send some of the money down here to help us out,” said a soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

He said he’d rather see the millions spent on Mercer Street used to improve Interstate 5 near the base, which has grown to 32,000 troops from 19,000 a decade ago.

The state wants to repave miles of I-5 in King County and widen the freeway near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but both projects cost billions of dollars, and right now, the state only has $124 million in the bank – less than half of the total cost of the Mercer project.

“There’s a lot of need here,” said Susan Rothwell, who owns Galloping Gertie’s restaurant near the base.

She said she thinks freeway improvements are a stronger transportation priority than Mercer Street.

“If they can find money to fix Mercer Street, then they should be able to find money to fix I-5, which is a major corridor between Portland and Seattle,” she said.

State officials said that right now, they barely have enough money to fix the worst trouble sptos along I-5.

The Mercer project is mostly funded by the city of Seattle, but it was also helped by a federal stimulus grant of $30 million.