Confused drivers create big backups around new Mercer St.

SEATTLE -- After several years of planning and construction, Mercer Street in Seattle is now a two-way street, but the new configuration aimed at solving the "Mercer Mess" didn't exactly go as smooth as many had hoped.

Instead, the Monday inbound Mercer commute was met with gridlock as confused drivers struggled with the new configuration.

As the sun rose, we found drivers were stopped in the middle of the intersection, turned where they now weren't allowed to turn. We saw one driver flipped around going facing the wrong way on the street.

A couple hours later in the heart of the morning commute the back-ups grew and grew.

The main point of confusion stemmed from drivers coming off I-5 and for years knowing they had to either turn right or left on Fairview Avenue, with the majority turning right to snake their way into the Seattle Center area.

No more. The new Mercer configuration allows that inbound traffic to continue straight on Mercer where it will connect to Broad Street. But many drivers were still merging into the far right lane to turn right on Fairview. What's more, those drivers can no longer turn left on Valley to connect to Seattle Center as they did on Friday, instead forced east on Fairview and in the opposite direction they were likely heading.

You also are no longer allowed to make a left turn from Mercer onto Fairview during the next phase of construction as crews will work to widen Fairview Avenue.

WSDOT has said they were having "slight backups" on I-5 but one witness reported that even at 10:15 a.m., the backup to exit on Mercer Street from the southbound Express Lanes stretched over a mile and a half.

But the DOT says the backups will ease in a day or two as people get used to the new configuration.

This begins the third of four construction stages on the Mercer project. The third stage is expected to last through early 2013.

Traffic restrictions will be in effect during Stage 3, including the following:

One northbound travel lane on Fairview Ave. N between Harrison and Valley streets
No access to Fairview Ave. N via Republican St. and no southbound access at the I-5 off-ramps at Mercer St.
One southbound lane on Fairview Ave. N from Aloha St. that connects to westbound Valley St.
Valley St. closed to eastbound traffic east of Terry Ave. N
Access maintained to Lake Union Park and businesses in Chandler's Cove

Work to be completed during the third stage of construction includes undergrounding of electrical distribution, transmission and communication lines; replacement or relocation of water, sewer, and storm drainage systems; relocation of gas lines; widening Fairview Ave. N between Republican St. and Valley St.; and the installation of new pavement, sidewalks, signals, lighting, signage, intelligent transportation systems, landscaping and urban design features.

Learn more about the project at the Seattle DOT website