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Originally published March 8, 2013 at 6:00 PM | Page modified March 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM

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Corrected version

‘Mercer Mess’ neatens up as Fairview fully reopens

The reopening of four lanes on Fairview Avenue North should give drivers and transit riders more options to surmount the nearby “Mercer Mess.”

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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The “Mercer Mess” should improve Saturday morning, when the city reopens a major connection at Fairview Avenue North.

Fairview Avenue, in a fast-growing neighborhood of offices and condos, has been constricted to a single northbound lane since August, while contractors replaced utility lines and pavement, from Harrison to Mercer streets.

Seattle has now finished two of the three main parts of its $170 million Mercer East project.

The former east-only Mercer Street is now a two-way boulevard with broad sidewalks, to serve people walking to Amazon, UW Medicine, or the Museum of History & Industry in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

Though politicians sometimes called the work a “fix” for traffic, studies predicted travel times would barely change. Some North End drivers blame Mercer area construction for adding 10 or 15 minutes to their commute entering Seattle on Interstate 5.

This spring and summer, Valley Street next to Lake Union will be rebuilt as a two-way arterial with bike lanes.

Now that Fairview is reopening, a drive will be much like in the past. There will be two lanes each way, three turn lanes at the confluence of Mercer and I-5, and a northbound through lane to the Eastlake neighborhood.

City staff say there will be less pressure on the street grid. The two blocks of Fairview immediately south of Mercer used to carry 34,000 vehicles per weekday, capacity that will suddenly be restored.

Traffic might flow better Monday just to the west, where drivers on Mercer cross Dexter Avenue, often in gridlock. This is because they must wait for other traffic to make left turns, on their way from I-5 to Mercer and left onto Westlake Avenue North.

The choke point will probably move east to where Mercer crosses Fairview, said Seattle transportation spokeswoman Marybeth Turner.

In late afternoon, the city has been giving Mercer’s eastbound drivers 96 seconds of green light, synchronized with three other signals, to traverse Fairview toward the I-5 onramps, based on stopwatch samples by The Seattle Times last week. That light will likely turn red more often, to allow drivers draining off I-5 to turn left at Fairview, as in the past.

Brian Kemper, city traffic engineer, said Mercer will be outfitted later this year with software that adjusts the timing and duration of green lights, based on traffic flow.

King County Metro bus routes 70, 71, 72, 73, 83 and 309 will return in one week to Fairview, after being detoured several months, and the 70 will return to electric power later this spring, after its overhead wires are re-installed.

Work begins soon on a $99 million Mercer West project to create a widened two-way underpass crossing Aurora Avenue North. Road detours could coincide with the return of Sonics basketball to KeyArena for a couple years, and construction of the new Highway 99 tunnel portal.

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

On Twitter @mikelindblom

King County Metro bus routes 70, 71, 72, 73, 83, and 309 will run on diesel when they return to Fairview Avenue North this weekend, until the 70 is re-connected to electric power in a few weeks. An article Saturday incorrectly said all six routes use electric trolley wires.

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