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A milestone fix on Seattle’s Mercer Mess this weekend

The first few days of the traffic change will likely be confusing to everyone and it will probably be a real pain on Monday morning. (KIRO Radio Photo/Ursula Reutin)

It’s another milestone in fixing Seattle’s Mercer Mess.

For thousands of frustrated drivers and many business owners, the re-opening of Fairview Avenue to two-way traffic this weekend may only ease some of their pain.

The Pilates and Physical Therapy Center of Seattle isn’t as busy as it used to be. About a year ago, owner Lauren Stephen moved her studios from the middle of the block to the corner of Fairview and Republican to expand her business.

“We could see an arc up of business that suddenly dove when construction began, like someone pulled a plug out of a drain of a bathtub. Someone just sucked it right out,” she says.

Since August of last year, Fairview has been restricted to one northbound lane between Harrison and Valley. With all the detours, construction, and lack of parking in the area, Stephen estimates her business has dropped by at least 25 percent.

“I had Pilates clients who’ve been coming for 15 years who said their drive, including the time it took to find parking, went from eight minutes to 45, and they just live on Westlake,” Stephen says. “So instead of coming five days a week, they only come in two.”

Many other businesses in South Lake Union are also feeling the pain. Daniel’s Broiler gets dozens of calls every night from customers getting lost on their way to the restaurant.

Starting Saturday morning, driving will get a little easier with Fairview re-opening to two-way traffic.

“Drivers will see a completely rebuilt roadway, from Valley Street to Harrison, widened in some sections, a new surface, new sidewalks and new traffic lights,” says Rick Sheridan with the Seattle Transportation Department.

He says the first few days of the traffic change will likely be confusing to everyone and it will probably be a real pain on Monday morning.

The Fairview re-opening is a milestone, he says, because crews will now move onto the final phase of the $164 million project, which will entail more road closures around Valley Street before its completed this summer.

Next month, work will start on the Mercer West project which will mean even more traffic headaches. Crews will be converting Mercer to two-way operations all the way to Elliott and 15th Avenue West.

“That will be some significant work on that roadway. We’ll have to take Mercer down to two lanes underneath Aurora as we widen the underpass, and we expect to see some real traffic issues in the future,” says Sheridan.

When it’s all done in 2015, the city estimates all the changes will only reduce travel times in the Mercer Corridor by three to four minutes during the peak times. But Sheridan says that was not the sole goal of the project.

He says the idea of creating a highway through South Lake Union was studied and rejected in the 1970’s. Instead, he says the goal is to effectively move the 80,000 drivers who use Mercer each day, while creating a roadway that is appropriate for the booming area.

Sheridan says Seattle has been dealing with horrible traffic problems in the area since the 60’s. “When this project is completed, we will have finally resolved the Mercer Mess.”

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