Mercer Street's freeway on-ramps get meters; commuters worry backups may get even messier

SEATTLE - This weekend the Washington State Department of Transportation started metering the freeway on-ramps  coming off of Mercer Street in Seattle.

WSDOT says for the next four weeks they’ll monitor how their computer algorithms and timing are working and iron out any kinks in the system before rolling out the metering to weekdays starting April 10th.

The notoriously gridlocked Mercer Street - with all its cars, construction, pedestrians, buses and cyclists - as developed a reputation over the years as the "Mercer mess."

“Just coming down here around four or five o’clock, it’ll take you a good two hours, you aren’t moving at all. It’s a joke,” said Libby Zoltani who works in South Lake Union and lives in Ballard.

The traffic gridlock for commuters like Zoltani is enough to bring her to tears some days.

“I sat in my car crying. I was on the phone with my mom it was a tough day already, I just want to get home and now I’m sitting in front of all these people crying ‘cause I’m stuck in this car!” Said Zoltani.

She’s like the thousands of drivers who battle the Mercer mess daily to get onto the freeway.

It’s entering I-5 that WSDOT says their new meters will help, making cars line up safely and efficiently to merge with fewer accidents.

“We don’t believe these traffics will make Mercer any slower. We expect crashes to be reduced by 33%,” said Harmony Weinberg with WSDOT.

Commuters say crashes aren’t the problem.

“Being on Mercer on this side and living on Mercer on that side, I’ve never seen any collisions,” said Jane Keating who works in South Lake Union and lives on Queen Anne.

“I’m just wondering what percentage of car crashes were there, it seems silly that that’s their focus,” said Zoltani.

She said metering may not affect Mercer much on weekends, but weekdays are a different story.

“We’ll see how that goes, during the weekdays I imagine nobody will get out of here. I think it will make it worse,” said Zoltani.

WSDOT says with meters a short wait on the ramp allows drivers to increase their average freeway speed shortening travel times on I-5.

Zoltani says her five-mile commute is already terrible, now she’s worried it’s going to get worse at the cost of saving a few minutes of travel time for freeway drivers.

“I’m in Ballard, so it’s usually not that far of a commute but when you get stuck down in this area for that long, I might as well live down in Tacoma,” said Zoltani.

Weinberg says once the metering starts on weekdays beginning April 10th, an average of 300 more cars will be able to pass through the Mercer area at peak times.

Weinberg added that the meters will turn on based on traffic, but commuters can expect to see the meters on during the morning and afternoon commute.

The northbound I-5 ramp will not be metered when the express lanes are open.

Weinberg said the meters may also turn on at other times of the day if traffic is particularly heavy.