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Sharon Park-and-Ride Slated for Expansion

  • Ryan Adams, of Bethel, left, waits to pick up Kirsten Newton at the Park and Ride in Sharon, Vt. Thursday, February 9, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sharon — The park-and-ride lot off of Interstate 89’s Exit 2 is popular among White River Valley commuters, but some Sharon residents don’t view it as much of a boon to the town.

“Everybody in the state knows what goes on in these park-and-rides,” Dustin Potter, a 34-year old property manager from Sharon who is opposed to a state initiative to upgrade and expand the Sharon park-and-right beyond its current 23-car capacity, said on Friday. “Everything from drugs to illicit offerings. There’s a lot of houses and schools right next to the park-and-ride. It’s just going to create more problems.”

The Sharon Selectboard appears to agree, at least in part — the panel earlier this week rejected five proposals from transportation officials to expand the park-and-ride, with panel members saying they don’t want the lot to expand beyond the state’s existing right of way.

Sharon Selectboard Chairman Kevin Blakeman said residents near the park-and-ride “are not keen on the idea” of an expansion.

“Then you’d have a park-and-ride in your backyard. There’s too much action and sometimes too much craziness that goes on there. People come and go at all hours of the night, even if it’s respectable stuff,” Blakeman said. “And some of the actions aren’t respectable.”

A scoping report from the Vermont Agency of Transportation views park-and-ride quite differently: as a vital link in a public transport infrastructure that has the capacity to lower both the cost and pollution associated with workers’ daily commutes.

The agency is considering Sharon as part of a larger effort to transform the state’s 44 park-and-rides from a hodgepodge of asphalt and gravel lots into a series of safe, intentionally designed parking lots that will be able to handle Vermont’s commuters for years to come.

“Park-and-ride facilities have gained increasing interest and usage nationally over the last 10 years,” according to the scoping study. “Vermont is no exception.”

The Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission conducted a 2015 study of seven park-and-rides in the region and found that Sharon’s had the highest usage rates by far, with 86 percent occupancy on one of two study days. It projects a current demand of 62 spaces, and says future demand will reach 82 spaces. Meanwhile, the Vermont Agency of Transportation said it sometimes receives calls from commuters complaining that the lot is full, leaving them with nowhere to park.

Blakeman said that, by his observation, the lot’s capacity is not strained.

“It shouldn’t be outrageously expanded because it seems like there’s a lot of vacant space in there right now,” he said.

Another reason the state would like to expand capacity at the park-and-ride has to do with Stagecoach Transportation Services, which estimated that it picks up 50 percent of its I-89 customers — including the elderly and persons with disabilities — from Sharon.

On days when the park-and-ride is full, the 30-foot bus can’t turn around in the Sharon park-and-ride, which slows its route, according to the scoping study.

The study explored possible alternative plans for the park-and-ride, including some that would move it away from its current location on Route 132 to any of five other locations on Route 132 or Route 14.

If the park-and-ride were to stay in its current location, the state said, it would like to expand the current lot, and suggested a few different configurations that would encroach to varying degrees on property owned by the Sharon Congregational Church or private landowners.

The Selectboard vote asked that all of the expansion alternatives be stricken from consideration, leaving only plans that would fall within the state’s existing right of way.

None of the concept plans in the scoping study contemplate expanding within the right of way, so it is unclear how many parking spaces, if any, could be added in that scenario.

Wayne Davis, the project supervisor for VTrans, said the agency would be unlikely to act unilaterally.

“VTrans would pretty much honor what the town or the village would support,” he said. “If nothing else, it needs better lighting. It’s dark in there.”

None of the plans in the scoping study would expand into the area currently occupied by a set of horseshoe pits, which regularly draw 40 members of the Sharon Horseshoe League.

Potter, who also is the president of the Horseshoe League, said he and town officials identified the league’s land as off limits early in the discussions, and that the state has listened.

“I’ve been told by VTrans ... that the horseshoe pits are in no danger of being taken over,” he said. “I think the state’s been very good ... not to impede on what we have.”

The next development will happen on March 9, when the Two Rivers commission will meet to consider both the Selectboard vote and the scoping study, according to Rita Seto, a Two Rivers transportation planner.

“We will take a vote and committee members will determine whether they support the town’s decision or a different alternative, and then present to VTrans with our decision,” she said.

Seto mentioned that the decision could be affected by the progress of other developments, including a similar project to create a park-and-ride off of Exit 3 in Royalton.

“That project is currently in the engineering stages, so certainly that project will have an impact on the capacity of the cars that use the Sharon lot,” she said.

Davis said that project costsfor the proposed Sharon expansion have not yet been developed, but that park-and-ride renovations typically cost somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.