As Damon Agnos has written, the supposedly secure funding of the "Mercer Mess" fix may not be so secure after all. But let's leave aside for the moment the (still developing) news as to whether federal stimulus funding will be available, or whether state and city officials are lying to one another or refusing to communicate honestly about such spending sources. We've all seen the fancy renderings and computer simulations depicting how a new two-way Mercer Street will become a lovely, tree-lined, bike and pedestrian friendly thoroughfare. Just like Paris or London. All of which will cost, oh, maybe $200 million.
But what about Mercer Mess West? Sure, Paul Allen's South Lake Union neighborhood may see tractors and bulldozers in action this summer to revamp the eastern end of Mercer to bypass the notorious Valley St. weave. But what happens when you proceed west past Dexter?Have you ever attempted to walk or bike along Mercer? From, say, the Uptown neighborhood all the way to Fairview and the I-5 ramps? I don't recommend it. Crossing by foot under Aurora (State Route 99) is particularly unpleasant. The sidewalks are narrow, the curb distance down to Mercer is alarmingly high, all of the street lighting is broken as you pass beneath 99, and there aren't any curb cuts when you reach Dexter. Currently, four lanes of traffic proceed in one direction (eastbound) from Queen Anne Ave. to Dexter. After that, you're in Allentown, where six lanes are planned.
According to spokesman Rick Sheridan of the city transportation department (SDOT),
"The Mercer Corridor Program can be broken into two parts: Mercer East is from I-5 to Dexter. It is currently at 100 percent design and has a funding plan approved by the City Council. The city is working towards construction by summer 2009 with Mercer ready for two-way traffic in 2011 and Valley Street completed by summer 2012."
Great, that's Phase I, as described on the SDOT Web site. But then there's Phase II, aka Mercer West.
Phase II sounds so simple. In the preliminary 2004 SDOT map above (in no way a final design), two-way Mercer would basically amount to restriping its lanes from Queen Anne to Fifth. Per SDOT's Sheridan:
"Mercer West covers Dexter to Elliott. It will convert Mercer and Roy Streets to two-way operation west of Dexter and expand the Mercer underpass under Aurora Ave N to accommodate six travel lanes. The cost of this work, estimated to be $76 million, is included in street improvements covered by the City of Seattle in the Viaduct replacement agreement. The project's construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2011."
But wait. Won't the north end of the deep-bore tunnel, which will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct (let's not talk about the funding), interfere with Mercer West? The tunnel has hardly even been designed yet. Flipping perspective so that north is now to your right, it's supposed to emerge and reconnect with Aurora something like this (according to a city-state brochure):
While the exact street-engineering decisions aren't yet determined, Sheridan says:
"The deep-bore tunnel will surface south of Mercer, so the design of the Mercer West project can proceed independent of the deep-bore tunnel. We are planning on reconnecting a number of streets currently severed by Aurora. It is likely that Broad Street will not exist as currently configured."
Is everyone clear on that? So while the city, legislature, and city council point fingers at one another, as South Lake Union's portion of Mercer gets bulldozed this summer and traffic is diverted all over town, remember that's only Phase I. By the time tempers cool and funding is found (we hope), the whole process will start all over again in 2011 for Mercer West. We can't wait.
But in the meantime, could anyone fix the lighting so that pedestrians can walk safely under 99 at night? Or must we endure two more years of darkness?