Seattle council OKs bond issue to start makeover of Mercer Mess
When it comes to Mayor Greg Nickels' plan to remake Seattle's infamous Mercer Street, Councilmember Nick Licata is used to casting a lone...
Seattle Times staff reporter
When it comes to Mayor Greg Nickels' plan to remake Seattle's infamous Mercer Street, Councilmember Nick Licata is used to casting a lone "no" vote.
Two weeks ago, he lost 8-to-1 when the council approved spending $14 million for a study to turn Mercer Street into a two-way boulevard through the South Lake Union area.
Undeterred, Licata continued urging his colleagues to put the brakes on a $201 million project that the mayor says will allow traffic to flow more efficiently and safely on one of the city's busiest streets.
On Tuesday, Licata lost again — 5-to-1: The council approved a $93 million bond issue that will raise $43 million as a down payment for the massive street project.
Licata insists the pricey plan will do little to improve traffic flow: "We're getting so little out of it."
Much in the way the city converted one-way Westlake Avenue North in the same neighborhood into a two-way street with a streetcar line, the mayor hopes Mercer Street will emerge a grand boulevard where cars will shoot efficiently on and off Interstate 5 and pedestrians can stroll safely to and from South Lake Union Park.
"This is the first step in fixing the Mercer Mess, to straighten out the alignment of Mercer and provide a more efficient transportation system in concert with neighborhood," said Michael Mann, the mayor's transportation aide.
Licata agrees something must be done to improve traffic and make the area better for pedestrians and bicyclists. But the city Transportation Department's plan is ineffective and mainly helps Paul Allen's development firm, Vulcan, which has invested heavily in turning the neighborhood into a residential and office hub.
"All arrows point in the direction of a huge benefit for them," Licata said in an interview Friday.
Today, the offramp from I-5 forces westbound drivers to weave onto Fairview Avenue North and then Valley Street. Mercer Street carries one-way, eastbound traffic to I-5.
The city plans to turn Mercer Street into a two-way, six-lane road and to narrow nearby Valley Street to create a more parklike environment, adding bike lanes and changing I-5 so the offramp no longer turns onto Fairview.
"That curvature, those two turns coming off the freeway and going to Westlake — it's got to be dangerous," said Councilmember Richard McIver, who voted Tuesday in favor of the bond issue. "They've been trying to straighten that out since I was on the planning commission in the '60s."
Results of a traffic study, which the city refused to make public until after the City Council voted on the $14 million appropriation, predicts that the drive through South Lake Union won't necessarily be faster after the project is completed.
Trips westbound from I-5 to Seattle Center would improve by a few minutes in the morning, but eastbound trips would be about the same. In the afternoon, traffic in both directions would be slower.
Mann, of the mayor's office, says the city expects a traffic increase of 15 to 25 percent in the area. "It's true that the speeds are going to be relatively the same, but you're going to move more vehicles through the corridor," he said. "That's a more efficient transportation system."
The bond package includes funding to start fixing the Spokane Street Viaduct and South Lander Street.
Supporters say the financial plan for the Mercer project requires council approval before the $43 million in bond money can be spent.
Council members McIver, Jean Godden, Bruce Harrell, Sally Clark and Richard Conlin voted in favor of the bond issue. Jan Drago, Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen were out of town Tuesday on an international-study mission.
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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