Sunday, May 9, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Other routes can lead to 520 without tackling 'Mercer mess'

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle resident Verna Ness has been trying to figure out the easiest route from Queen Anne Hill to the Eastside without getting tangled up in the "Mercer mess" during afternoon rush-hour traffic. She's discovered, as many motorists have, that it's a challenge to get to Highway 520 after entering Interstate 5 northbound at Mercer Street because that requires crossing several lanes of frequently heavy traffic.

A. State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jamie Holter suggests a Capitol Hill route: From Queen Anne, take Denny Way east, which will become East Olive Way, then East John Street on Capitol Hill. At 15th Avenue East, when it seems you may run straight into Group Health Cooperative's Central campus, turn left, then immediately right onto East Thomas Street. Follow Thomas east to 23rd Avenue East, then turn left to travel north on 23rd. That will put you right on track to use the Montlake entrance to eastbound 520.

Here's another suggestion, says Holter: Try heading toward Eastlake. Take Eastlake Avenue East north to Fuhrman Avenue East, the last street before the University Bridge. Turn right on Fuhrman, which will become Boyer Avenue East and intersect with East Lynn Street. That street hooks into Montlake "and voila, you are on the Montlake entrance again," says Holter.

Another option is to enter I-5 northbound at Olive Way, south of Mercer Street. That way, you'll already be on the right side of the freeway, and it will be easier to exit to Highway 520. Perhaps readers have other suggestions.

Q. Ned Logan lives close to the freeway near Northgate. The constant drone of regular freeway noise, although not pleasant, has become more like background noise, he says. Except for one problem — the sound of compression brakes.

"The use of this brake system produces an extremely loud and obnoxious sound that literally shakes my home," he said. Logan was under the impression that compression-brake use within Seattle city limits was illegal. "If it is true, why are law-enforcement agencies not enforcing this law?"

A. Rob Spillar, traffic-management director for Seattle's Department of Transportation, says that for starters, enforcement of the use of compression brakes on Interstate 5 would be a State Patrol responsibility.

Seattle doesn't have an outright ban on the use of properly muffled compression brakes, since they can be necessary on steep grades or in an emergency.

Spillar says the city does restrict their use on long, flat sections of city streets with a grade of less than 5 percent over 1,000 feet.

Now, for the next step: Patrol spokeswoman Kelly Spangler says there is no state law against use of those compression brakes. So, you just may have to live with the noise if it's coming from freeways or state highways.

Q. Dennis Heetbrink of Woodinville wonders if the state has considered opening car-pool lanes to single-occupant vehicles with commercial plates as a way to bolster commerce. That perhaps could be combined with higher licensing fees for commercial vehicles, or perhaps limiting commercial use of the lanes to nonpeak hours, he said.

A. Melissa Loomis in the state Department of Transportation's urban-planning office says that while some car-pool lanes are open to single-occupancy vehicles from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., the state has no plans to open car-pool lanes across the board to solo-occupant vehicles — not even those with commercial license plates.

Bumper welcomes feedback on topics appearing in this column. E-mail us at or call Charles Brown at 206-464-2206.

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