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TIGER Grants Help Clean up the “Mercer Mess” in Seattle

September 26, 2013

This is the first in a series of blogs that will explore the impact TIGER grants have on local communities by helping them better leverage financing options, meet transportation safety goals, and increase overall quality of life by introducing alternative modes of transportation.

The Mercer Corridor has been one of the City of Seattle’s most significant transportation challenges for over 40 years. Dubbed the “Mercer Mess,” the corridor’s circuitous one-way routing created major congestion, while restricting easy access to one of the city’s fastest growing neighborhoods, South Lake Union.

From its initial construction in the 1950s, the corridor was supposed to be a temporary solution to provide access to Interstate 5 while it was under construction.  However, it’s vehicle-based design cut through neighborhoods in such a way that it’s resulted in increased traffic and unsafe crossings for pedestrians.

The need for serious changes to the corridor was obvious to both residents and city officials for years. Some 80,000 vehicles, along with growing numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists, travel the corridor, making it a critical east/west route for moving people, goods, and services.

With substantial community buy-in, the city is in the midst of the Mercer Corridor Project. The goal of the project is to create an integrated system of freight, transit, pedestrian, bicycle, and car improvements that make the area a more livable, functional community with easy access to the downtown area.

This project is creating access from neighborhoods in the region to the growing biotechnology hub in South Lake Union, connecting a number of urban centers to a major interstate and helping facilitate improved freight movement for goods between the Port of Seattle and their other shipping facilities.

It is estimated that this project will positively impact commuters traveling to the region’s 245,000 existing jobs and the 50,000 additional jobs expected by 2024 by creating a more efficient and safe traffic flow.  The project also includes bike lanes, better pedestrian facilities, and improved connections to transit.

With a total cost for the first phase of the project of $190 million, the city financed the project with help from a $30 million TIGER grant, and other sources such as city funds and private contributions.

In 2012, the city received a second TIGER grant for reconstruction of the western portion of the corridor.

This second phase aims to connect the nearby interstate highway to a local street and is projected to create 1,000 direct and indirect jobs through its construction.  Additionally, it continues to build on the first phase of the project by further alleviating traffic, facilitating better freight movement, and supporting economic growth in the region by both creating jobs and improving access to them.

For more information on Seattle’s Mercer Street Corridor and other TIGER grant programs, register to attend NLC’s Congress of Cities conference in Seattle, WA, Nov. 13-16, 2013.  The conference will feature solutions to local challenges in the areas of infrastructure development and investment, environmental sustainability, and economic development.

About the TIGER Grants

In 2009, the US Congress dedicated $1.5 million for the first round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program, which was created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  The overwhelming popularity of the TIGER grant program has sustained this resource for local governments for five years and counting.

Through the program, the U.S. Department of Transportation provides competitive grants to local governments to invest in a variety of transportation initiatives that meet community needs while contributing to national transportation goals.

JuliaPulidindi

About the author: Julia Pulidindi is a Senior Associate for Infrastructure at the NLC. Her work focuses on identifying local challenges and solutions to transportation and telecommunications infrastructure issues.  Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaPulidindi.

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