A new restriction blocking drivers from making right turns from southbound Dexter to Mercer Street is the latest blow to drivers who regularly travel through the difficult South Lake Union construction zone.
But this most recent change was made for good reason says Rick Sheridan with the Seattle Department of Transportation.
“On Tuesday alone, we had two incidences where vehicles struck bicyclists,” says Sheridan. “Based on that, we knew that we had to make a change in order to ensure that everyone could be safe at that location.”
KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz, who lives on Dexter Ave., says the new change will mean a big headache for him, and he’s having trouble accepting yet another concession drivers are being forced to make.
“I am extremely pissed off about this. It is extremely inconvenient.”
Rantz acknowledges they’ve made progress in the flow of Mercer itself, but planners seem to be ignoring all the issues of getting onto the busy thoroughfare.
“It seems like you’ve not put remotely enough time on the experience of getting onto Mercer itself or even getting off of it. Have you seen the traffic on Fairview coming out of Eastlake? A ride that should normally take five minutes ends up taking 20.”
The driver experience during construction doesn’t seem to be getting the consideration it deserves, Rantz says.
“It seems like you’re asking us to put up with an awful lot during a project that seems to be taking forever. I know projects of this magnitude, they take a long time to complete, but at what point is the driver supposed to know that SDOT actually cares about their experience through all this? It seems like a lot of these concerns aren’t being addressed.”
Sheridan says they are working hard to strike a balance. “We recognize that there are drivers like yourself who are frustrated with your experience so far with Mercer, but we’re still working on this project.”
Sheridan says the project is expected to be completed by mid-2015, and he does appreciate hearing from drivers.
“Your individual perspective informs how we feel about this location and is important, from our point-of-view, in understanding how users are driving along that corridor and where they have frustration.”
If the construction is a necessary evil for the corridor, Rantz wondered if there’s any way they could get it done faster. Could they work on weekends or overnight?
But Sheridan explains working nights could end up making the project a good deal more expensive.
“The contractor will want to charge the city more because it takes longer to do the work. You need additional safety equipment and personnel. You need additional equipment like lights, so typically that work is more expensive and takes longer, so it’s something that we utilize when we absolutely have to.”
And he says crews do work on the weekends, but agreements they’ve made with the Seattle Center prevent them from working every weekend.
“We will not work on certain weekends when they have high capacity events. We try to take advantage of weekends when we can, but at the same time, it’s not as if every weekend would be available to us.”
Really, the only consolation Sheridan could offer is his assertion that the work will be well worth it when complete.
“We think once this construction is all done that when you have an improved Mercer going all the way to Elliott Avenue, when you have those extra crossings of SR 99 built by the state at Harrison, John and Thomas, you’re going to see a lot better roadway system even with all the construction and population growth that is going on in South Lake Union.”
Regardless, Rantz told Sheridan he wants the department to consider drivers in the meantime.
“I hope moving forward, you can think about just the drivers’ experience both from people who live here in that area or who have to drive it routinely. It’s becoming almost unbearable and something needs to be done.”