How did Mercer get to be such a mess?
The problem goes back more than five decades.
In the late 1950s, Mercer Street was a temporary solution to get around the construction of Interstate 5. Later when the Seattle World’s Fair was held at what’s now Seattle Center, Mercer Street had even more traffic.
“One of the most frequently uttered phrases in the lexicon of Seattle motorists since the Freeway has been extended into the city’s central area is ‘the Mercer Street mess.’ Any driver who has ever found himself on the Mercer Street approach or exit to the freeway during the morning or evening rush hours knows the nature of that mess.”
That year, Seattle officials met in secret with the State Highway Commission and created an $8 million plan to relieve Mercer Mess congestion. (That’s the equivalent of roughly $59 million today.) The plan called for re-engineering entrances to I-5 from Mercer to Roy streets, with the widening or addition of lanes.
But by 1977, the problem was even worse.
In July of that year, city leaders showed plans to solve the problem to a frustrated crowd at Seattle Center. A traffic department spokesman told KIRO 7 action would be taken late that summer.
There were plans to build an elevated freeway across the south end of Lake Union, one that would link Interstate 5 with Seattle Center. (There even was a vote to put a baseball stadium near Mercer and the Seattle Center.)
In the 1990s, another solution considered was a Mercer Street tunnel.
By 1994, Seattle had spent millions on eight major studies to try and fix Mercer Street.
And by 2001, the Seattle City Council openly admitted they weren’t touching the problem.
In early 2010, SDOT began the first phase of turning Mercer Street into a two-way street – spending millions in the process. It opened to two-way traffic in August 2012 – allowing westbound drivers to remain on Mercer instead of shifting to nearby Valley Street — and the final phase was completed in 2013.
The latest Mercer Street redesign also led to widened sidewalks and a bike path. But it didn’t alleviate the traffic messes during rush-hours – and there’s no clear solution for the Mercer Mess.
In May 2016, city leaders announced another $1 million would be spent on Mercer Street light timing, but acknowledged that would not speed up commute times.