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Originally published February 18, 2010 at 10:55 PM | Page modified February 18, 2010 at 10:55 PM

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Work on 'Mercer Mess' to start soon

The rebuilding of Mercer Street will begin in just a few weeks, now that the feds have provided the last bit of money for the three-year, $191 million project.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Mercer Street money

FUNDING for $191 million to replace the eastbound arterial with an attractive two-way boulevard:

U.S. stimulus grant: $30 million.

Seattle parking tax: $69.7 million, under the 2006 "Bridging the Gap" program.

Landowner contributions: $31.4 million.

Utility rates: $13.5 million.

Regional grants: $9.5 million.

Construction savings: $31 million; includes $15 million shifted from the under-budget Spokane Street Viaduct project; low bids are expected for Mercer, due to recession.

Property sales: $4.9 million from sale of surplus city lands in South Lake Union.

Transportation impact fees: $0.7 million from nearby developers.

Source: city of Seattle DOT

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Now that Seattle has enough money, 80,000 drivers a day will witness a rapid start to the rebuilding of Mercer Street, in just a few weeks.

First comes the March demolition of eight buildings just north of the rugged eastbound street.

Once those lots are cleared, road expansion can begin in July. Century-old utility lines will be replaced, then covered by new concrete to build what will be the future westbound lanes.

Despite the commotion, the city's three-year work plan should avoid major lane closures and delays on Mercer, except for scattered night and weekend shutdowns, project manager Angie Brady said Thursday.

This week, the federal government awarded Seattle $30 million in stimulus funds, the last piece in a funding puzzle for the $191 million project, to create 1,200 jobs.

"We know that out here on the ground a lot of folks are getting up every day and they're worried about their jobs, they've been furloughed, or cut back, they haven't seen pay increases, and they're watching as a lot of money has gone to Wall Street and they're asking in Seattle, what's happening here for me?" said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., at a celebration speech Thursday at Westlake Avenue North and Mercer.

Mercer Street was among only 51 approved projects out of 1,400 applicants for the $1.5 billion available.

One reason it prevailed was its strategic role as a connection between Interstate 5 and the future Alaskan Way Tunnel.

"The new corridor will literally be the road to global health for everybody across the world," said Gov. Chris Gregoire, noting the east-west route reaches Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, UW Medicine and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since about 1970, the area has been known as the "Mercer Mess."

The four eastbound-only lanes on Mercer will be replaced by three lanes in each direction, as well as sidewalks and trees, to create a more pleasant urban boulevard. Valley Street, now the westbound route to Seattle Center, will be narrowed to two lanes, plus bike lanes.

Opponents say eastbound traffic likely will be slower. The city points to quicker travel west from I-5, plus the chance to create a more logical street grid.

By using the vacant lots, workers can enter the project site from the north, rather than block traffic lanes with heavy machinery.

This year, there will be only a few overnight closures to set north-south utilities, especially a sewer line on Ninth Avenue, Brady said.

In 2011, motorists driving toward I-5 will be shifted north onto the new pavement — the future westbound lanes — and then veer back toward the freeway onramps on a temporary asphalt road, until the new Mercer Street east lanes are ready in 2012.

Valley Street is the last phase, ending in Spring 2013. Brady hopes to avoid a full shutdown, but if contractors can save six months by closing Valley, the city has to consider that, she said.

There also will be a few night or weekend closures when contractors build new detour lanes or ramps where Mercer meets the freeway.

"The intent is to keep traffic moving as much as we can and still get the work done," Brady said.

By law, the construction equipment cannot spill over into the Lake Union Park, where expansions to boat docks, walkways and meadows will be finished by fall.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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