Whether they come to the Statehouse to work, to listen or to protest, most of them come in cars that need to be parked.
The least wonderful time of the year for Montpelier parkers resumes Tuesday with the return of the Legislature. Thus begins a four- to five-month ritual of circling the block for the hundreds of advocates, lawyers, lobbyists, onlookers and media types hunting for a spot.
There are no new options for Statehouse visitors this winter and next year there will likely be even fewer total spaces as the City of Montpelier moves ahead with redevelopment of the Carr lot on Taylor Street. Many of the spaces there that are leased by the city to the state might not be available at this time next year.
That’s because the city last week completed the $1.4 million purchase of the site from owner Alan Carr and will turn it into a federally funded transit center with upper floor development, a welcome center, and a bicycle and pedestrian path/bridge over the North Branch of the Winooski River. Construction could begin by this fall.
“It’s not going to result in a plethora of new public parking,” Montpelier City Manager Bill Fraser said Monday.
In the meantime, visitors will likely find satellite parking behind the Department of Labor as their best option. A shuttle bus continuously brings people downtown from the lot, which is located just off Memorial Drive west of the capitol.
The Department of Buildings and General Services reports that there are about 2,600 state employees in Montpelier and about 2,000 parking spaces at the Capitol Complex and National Life. A recent survey concluded that there were too few parking spots for state employees and incentives were offered to employees who take the bus to work.
The state is short about 600 parking spaces for state employees at the two locations when the Legislature is not in session. During the peak Statehouse months, the parking deficit is about 840 spaces.
The city and state have each studied the problem for years, if not decades. There are essentially two options to increasing the number of parking spaces, Fraser says – building a structure or finding more open lots.
Neither option appears likely.
“If there were a structure solution, I think we would have found it by now,” Fraser said.
Some of the legislative crunch can be attributed to the season, Fraser said. Fewer people feel like standing in the cold waiting for a shuttle bus so they take their chances and come downtown to hunt for that elusive spot. Heavy snow also has a tendency to consume parking spaces.
“It’s the heart of the winter when we have the worst weather, when the hard core bikers and runners — those most likely to use alternate transportation – are the least likely to be doing that … that is when we’re the most packed,” he said.