Business & Economy

Can’t find parking in Montpelier? You’re not alone …

Parking is a problem in Montpelier. Not only for the usual Statehouse crowd — 180 lawmakers and the 400 lobbyists and advocates who swarm the nation’s smallest state capital — but also for state employees, visitors, renters, and business owners who are trying to attract customers to their retail shops, restaurants and hotels.

State and local officials say parking has been a perennial issue in the state capital for decades, but this year things have come to a head. More people are coming to the city, in part because of the recent move of about 400 more state employees to Montpelier, and there is less room to accommodate all their vehicles.

The Department of Buildings and General Services issued a report in January that shows there are about 2,600 state employees in Montpelier and about 2,000 parking spaces at the Capitol Complex and National Life, which leases office space to the Agency of Transportation and Agency of Natural Resources employees.

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, January through April, the total parking deficit is about 840 spaces.

On Tuesday, the Vermont State Employees Association held an hourlong hearing on the issue in the House Chamber. About 150 state workers took seats normally filled by lawmakers and listened as colleagues, business owners, the Montpelier mayor and state officials talked about how the problem has compounded.

The hearing was the culmination of an effort by the union to draw attention to Montpelier’s paucity of parking. Hundreds of state employees have weighed in on the matter.

Diane Decouteau, a supervisor at the Department of Motor Vehicles, said it’s not unusual for state workers to search “like vultures” for empty spots each morning. The difficulty of finding parking affects productivity and morale, Decouteau said.

Brian Kane, general manager of the Capitol Plaza Hotel, said the parking lot behind his building has 209 spots — all of which are full by 8:30 a.m. He doesn’t have capacity for conference and restaurant visitors, and that fact negatively impacts his ability to attract customers. Several motorcoach operators won’t come to Montpelier anymore, he said, because there are no parking spaces for tour buses in the city. About 400 a year pass through the area on the way to Morse Farm, he said, and Montpelier misses out on that business.

When a city doesn’t accommodate buses with parking spaces, he said it sends the message that “clearly we don’t want you.”

Kane said Burlington merchants demanded that that city provide parking for tour buses. There are now five spaces downtown, he said.

The first step to recovery in Kane’s view? Admission that the city has a problem. He suggested that the city and state devise a master plan to incorporate parking and transit services so that “all parties benefit.”

The city bans street parking at night in the winter season to allow road crews to clear streets of snow, and this creates a problem for renters who already have a tough time finding places to park.

State and city officials say they are working on solutions, but don’t count on a new parking garage among them.

Though a garage near the Statehouse is at the top of Mayor John Hollar’s list of solutions, neither the city, nor the state has the money to invest in a multi-million dollar facility at a time when the ultimate cost — and fate — of the Waterbury State Office Complex is still up in the air.

“I recognize this is a serious problem,” Hollar said. “You face daily hassle and stress trying to get to work on time. It also puts limits on the vitality of our city. It’s hard to shop here and go out to eat.”

Hollar said he is committed to working on the issue, and he has appointed a parking committee to address short and long term solutions. “We need to address the longterm; we need to consider building a garage,” Hollar said. But the mayor acknowledged that the state faces significant financial challenges with the state office complex over the next few years.

Michael Obuchowski, commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services, said Montpelier actually has 130 more parking spaces this year than last. In addition, the state has made a concerted effort to encourage workers to use the Department of Labor parking lot and take a short bus ride to the downtown.

The commissioner said a garage would be costly ($25,000 per parking space) and would need to be rebuilt in 15 years because of winter deterioration factors. A garage that would hold up longer, he said, would be even more expensive to build.

“The construction of a parking garage is a last choice option in my opinion,” Obuchowski said.

“We have examined a multitude of possible solutions,” he continued. “I don’t think there is one solution to the problem I think we have to employ all the ideas.”

Those ideas include encouraging state workers to walk to work, carpool and use shuttle services. The department, he said, is considering better credentialing and enforcement for parking spaces, unreserving spaces at a time certain, installing bike racks, providing incentives for state employees who use public transit or carpool.

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Anne Galloway

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  • Dan Luneau

    A tale of two cities. St Albans is full steam ahead in building a parking garage in their down town. The voters there recently voted to authorize the city to use several hundred thousand dollars of TIF money to do preliminary work on the project. I find it interesting that Montpelier, with a significant parking problem, feels that a parking garage, based on this article, is potentially a too expensive option to solve their problem.
    What gives?

  • Tony Redington

    While UVM and Fletcher Allen dropped solo driving by 14 percent in about a decade…that is about 800 parking spaces…the State twiddled its thumbs on providing their employees with subsidized transit tickets, incentive to carpool, that is “commuter choice” services. it costs $30,000 to $40,000 a space for a parking garage space but a lot less to invest in employee lower cost commuting that helps them too. Commuter rail or the Link buses now provide a $7,000 after tax savings to a Burlington-Montpelier commuter compared to solo driving. This is pretty simple arithmetic. So, commuter choice, commuter rail, and commuter support first and foremost!!,

    Tony Redington. Blog. TonyRVT.blogspot.com

  • Ken Yearman

    The State of Vermont is ponying up $18 million for the district heat project, with the City of Montpelier on the hook for $4 million more. Obuchowski wants to make parking in front of the State House “permit only” to generate a bit of revenue for the heating project, thus eliminating parking for the general public. The priorities appear to be way out of whack. Spend $20 million to create parking, charge a reasonable fee to park, and make a much larger positive impact on the City, the workers who breath economic life into it every day, and the residents who live there?

  • David Rogers

    180 lawmakers,400 lobbyists and 2,600 state employees should all use off site parking and the state should have a shuttle bus loop like FAHC. Then the visitors/customers of the city could have meter parking.

    • Roy Moss

      While I dont disagree that there should be ample off site parking and shuttle service made available, this would not be a feasible solution for many. I might want to remind you as well that those 180 lawmakers, 400 lobbyists and 2600 state employees make up a huge portion of the customer base for business in Montpelier. This is not a problem with one simple solution, it will take a number of measures that work together to solve it. Increased public transportation, off site parking with shuttles, increased use of car and van pools and a parking garage are all reasonable parts of the solution.

  • The Governor and Legislature are absolutely dedicated to reducing fossil fuel burning. So the only solution to the Montpelier parking problem has to start with far fewer cars being driven into the city.

  • Let me add to my above post.

    Solutions to the Montpelier parking problem can probably be found in the State’s Comprehensive Energy Plan or CEP. The CEP provides the impetus for a number of initiates such as building wind turbines on ridge lines, decorating our highways with solar panels and constructing CO2 emitting bio-mass plants. These are initiates that many of our elected officials support, so I assume that they would also support other CEP objectives in the spirit of solving the parking problem and cutting down on the consumption of fossil fuel at the same time.

    The CEP also calls for car pooling and increased bicycle riding to reduce fossil fuel burning. So here, right in the CEP, is the solution to the parking problem:
    Legislators, administration officials, Supreme Court Justices and PSB members either car pool or ride their bicycles to work in Montpelier.

    For example, riding one’s bicycle from East Montpelier to the Capital seems like a reasonable thing to do to help with the parking problem.

    There may even be something in this for the Green Mountain Care Board to like. Just think of the cardiovascular benefits riding bicycles would have on reducing health care costs.

  • Karen Kane

    It’s crazy not to use this as an opportunity to get more folks carpooling and using public transportation! Shame on the city planners if they’re not thinking along these lines!

  • SAM BUCKLEY

    I live in Montpelier, walk less than 10 minutes to work in downtown and walk past plenty of free parking every day. I think those that complain about parking must want to walk less than 2 minutes. Having lived in more metropolitan areas, I always find it amusing to hear people complain about parking here.

  • HALE IRWIN

    Parking issues definitely keep me from shopping in Montpelier. Lack of space and the parking meter inconvenience drive people elsewhere!

  • Anita Kelman

    Montpelier has had a parking problem for a long time. I’d be more than happy to park in a distant lot, perhaps near the interstate, if I could be assured that a shuttle bus would pick me up within a short time frame. Montpelier is a very walkable city, so once I’m downtown, I’m good to go until I need to leave. It’s just finding a place to park there that’s the issue. Mass transit doesn’t run where I live so that’s not a viable way to get there.

    I do have to say that dealing with parking and meters tends to limit my time spent in town other than on the weekend. Having to feed the meter and worry about a ticket tends to shorten my visits during the week. And I don’t tend to shop downtown if I have a way to visit a similar store where meters are not an issue. For instance, I can shop at Aubuchon’s in Northfield or Randolph and not have parking and meter issues. I’d guess this has negative impacts on the businesses.

    So I vote for commuter lots with a free shuttle that runs constantly, plus urge those who work in town to carpool if possible. And how about free loaner bikes? Have racks of them at the parking lots and racks downtown- pick up a bike and go, drop it off on the way back. Other cities have similar operations. It’s a total hassle to haul a bike to town by car but I’d ride one if it were available.

  • Peter Liston

    Want to see the problem solved quickly?

    Take away the reserved parking for all legislators, department heads and administration officials.

    • krister adams

      and free up, what 200 spaces?

  • Peter Liston

    The people with the most power to resolve the problem will make it a top priority if they are the ones circling the village looking for a spot.

  • Arthur Hamlin

    A comprehensive solution is needed and it has to include a parking garage somewhere. Whether you walk to work and “see” empty parking spaces or not the state actually counted and there are 600 too few spaces just for state workers. Not to mention visitors, shoppers, other people who work in Montpelier, residents or lobbyist for that matter. A lot of state workers already car pool, van pool, or take a bus. But there are no buses from a lot of places people live to get to work and that doesn’t help if your job requires you to travel for work or you suddenly have to leave to attend to a sick child, or you get sick while you are at work or another emergency comes up. Bicycles in Vermont are not an option for at least seven months of the year or if you live more than a few miles away. A commuter lot (or garage?) with free shuttles could be a real option and would free up spaces downtown for tourists etc. I know the proposals include eliminating designated parking spaces but frankly there aren’t that many of them in the big picture, there are good reasons why some people need a space they can rely on being available, and all that would do is cause a game of “musical chairs” with the spaces that are available.

  • Caro Abe

    People can also park a little bit beyond the downtown and use the Circulator bus, which Montpelier just voted to fund again, and which goes round and round the downtown in loops every day.

  • Paul Carnahan

    Montpelier may have a convenience parking problem, but to suggest that there is a deficit of 600 and 840 parking spaces is just hyperbole. Can you imagine if there were that many cars looking for parking places in the Capital Complex or even throughout the whole downtown? There would be total grid lock. I can tell you that there aren’t 600 cars circling the streets of Montpelier looking for parking spaces.

    In this discussion it is important to think of the downtown business district and the Capital Complex as separate areas. People do not park in the Capital Complex to shop downtown and vice versa. The dynamics of parking in Montpelier are much more complex than this article suggests, as the comments here begin to explore.

  • Dave Bellini

    One solution would be to eliminate all special reserved parking for legislators, exempt employees and BGS. See how fast a parking garage would get built then.