Drivers traveling on Seattle’s crowded Mercer Street might get some relief March 9, when the rebuilt north-south Fairview Avenue North finally opens to two-way traffic.
The Seattle Department of Transportation announced the milestone Monday morning. Here is a link to the city’s road map. Fairview will function much like it did before the massive two-way Mercer rebuild began, with three turn lanes plus a through lane to the Eastlake neighborhood flowing downhill, and two lanes going uphill toward downtown, at the Fairview-Mercer-I5 junction.
The change ought to relieve some congestion on westbound Mercer, just after motorists exit Interstate 5. For months, drivers couldn’t turn left at Fairview, so they’ve crowded into left-turn lanes for Westlake and Ninth Avenues North, causing westbound congestion. This in turn hinders eastbound travel toward the freeway — whenever the incoming drivers turn left toward downtown, the eastbound drivers must wait. The car queues overflow into the “box” at the Mercer-Dexter Avenue North crossing, which endangers bicyclists and causes gridlock. Drivers can be hit with a $124 traffic ticket or even a razzing by “Get Jesse” at KING 5 News.
“When we reopen Fairview, we expect the traffic to flow better along Mercer, especially at Dexter,” said SDOT spokeswoman Marybeth Turner. But “we are anticipating the chokepoint will move east to Fairview,” she said, where cars bound for I-5 would wait for left-turning traffic from I-5 ramps to Fairview.
City staff have said slowdowns are a temporary effect of construction. On the other hand, traffic studies before the project said it wouldn’t shorten eastbound travel times, but should help drivers leaving I-5. The project does improve pedestrian and bicycle access significantly, and is part of a city effort to attract redevelopment.
King County Metro Transit says it will soon return several 70-series bus routes to Fairview heading to and from downtown, after being detoured since August.
Next, the contractors will rebuild Valley Street into a two-lane arterial plus bicycle lanes, to reach the Museum of History and Industry and other stops along southern Lake Union. That work is expected to last until July.