I missed this over the weekend, but the Times reported Saturday that Mayor Nickels says that the fix for the Mercer mess may be partially paid for by the Federal Stimulus Package. Apparently, the Feds would chip in $50 million of the $200 million Mercer Street project would come from the stimulus, in addition to $25 million for the $167 million Spokane Street viaduct project. You can read more about the Mercer Project here at the Seattle Department of Transportation’s website, and the Spokane Street Project here at the same place. Assuming this all works as the Mayor says it will, this is excellent news for transit.
First, a warning: this is all very preliminary. The total final dollar amount for the stimulus has not been finalized, at last look the House draft bill had $825 or $850 billion – the number depends on whom you ask – in tax cuts, infrastructure spending, education money and state aid, among other things. Also, the apportionment of the funds to these areas has not been finalized, though the Housedraft had $30 billion for roads. For one, House Transportation Committee Chair James Oberstar (D-Minn) would like a bigger portion of the stimulus to go to transportation infrastructure. According to the Times, our state expects to get about $515 million for transportation, which is a guess based on the state’s population. Even then, the draft bill doesn’t say which projects would get funds, and if the money goes through the Washington Department of Transportation before making its way to individual projects, these two could conceivably not make the cut.
Background and more thoughts below the fold.
For background, the “Mercer Mess” project would convert Mercer Street from a one-way street into a six-lane two-way boulevard, with direct access to I-5 and the future SR-99 tunnel. The motivation is mostly about cleaning up the congested and confusing roadways between I-5 and SR-99, and also turning Valley street from a westbound thoroughfare into a pedestrian friendly neighborhood street. If you’ve been down there, it can take fifteen or twenty minutes to get the half-mile or so from the Seattle Center to I-5 on Mercer. Since the SLU streetcar runs on Valley, improving the congestion on that street is going to improve service for the Streetcar, as well as improving the experience at the new Lake Union Park, which is excellent on a nice day, and will only become more cherished over time as South Lake Union develops into an extension of downtown from the run-down semi-industrial no-man’s-land it has been.
The Spokane Street project ads one HOV lane in each direction to that elevated structure, and I’ve been told by SDOT folks that this will make a big difference for bus service to West Seattle. Unlike some of the other contributors here, I’m not always against new highway lanes, though I am against most new highway lanes, and usually against general-purpose lanes. HOV lanes are often okay with me, especially if it means more reliable bus service. This seems to be one of those cases, and since the Viaduct will be replaced by a tunnel that doesn’t stop downtown, West Seattle commuters are going to need a reliable bus commute more than ever.
Lastly, $75 million the city doesn’t have to spend on roads is $75 million they could spend on transit, particularly new streetcars, though there’s no guarantee. The Spokane Street Viaduct HOV lanes should improve bus service to West Seattle, and the Mercer should improve the SLUT service and buses like the 66 and 70 that have to cross over that mess. Overall, I take this stimulus talk as welcome news, because I partially imagined $30 billion spent on brand new highways, and these obviously aren’t brand new highways, just a couple of miles of new HOV lanes. Though I am interested to learn what Ben Schiendelman – who has a very deep understanding of how roads effect neighborhoods and commute pattern – has to say on the matter.
I’m also interested what you guys have to say. Is this welcome news or would you rather the stimulus money go somewhere else? Thoughts on Mercer Street or the West Seattle Bridge? Leave ’em in the comments.