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Meter running on debate over White River Junction parking issues

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2021 9:52:02 PM
Modified: 6/2/2021 9:51:59 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Bringing in parking meters, looking for new parking lots and improving access to public transportation are some of the suggestions town officials and residents raised this week when looking at how to solve White River Junction’s long-standing parking shortage.

“Parking in the downtown core is very limited,” Town Planner Matt Osborne said during a presentation to the Selectboard and public on Tuesday.

He said the village’s revitalization over the last five years especially has led to an “upward trend in the demand for public parking.”

“We saw dramatic increases in evening occupancy, steady increases in midday occupancy. We also saw at or near full occupancy in the downtown core section,” he said, adding that a survey in 2019 showed parking occupancy had increased by 50% over the last four years.

Osborne made his presentation during Hartford’s first “listening session” Tuesday night, which was a two-hour meeting in front of the Selectboard on the state of parking in White River Junction.

It was also a chance for officials to take input from the public on how to address the limited parking in the village.

White River Junction currently has 330 parking spaces, many of which have a two-hour parking maximum and don’t have meters.

Town Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis said that while other towns are facing similar parking issues, the geography in White River Junction, including two rivers and a railroad, limits how far the village can expand.

“We can’t just keep spreading out,” she said at the meeting.

Though town officials did not take any formal action following the meeting, Yarlott-Davis said input from residents and Selectboard members may help the town find a long-term solution.

“Next steps will be digging into what we heard about parking and evaluating if there are any lower-cost, higher-impact solutions we can implement in the next year or so,” she wrote in an email Wednesday.

One of the biggest suggestions raised at the meeting was bringing parking meters to White River Junction, which the board has discussed in recent years. The issue was even brought to a March 2020 Town Meeting ballot but was voted down in a 2,088-906 vote.

Currently even the most populated parts of the village — like Main and Gates streets — are devoid of meters. Charging people to stay in those spots may help “manage parking in the downtown,” Osborne said.

Former Selectboard member Mike Morris, who spoke at the meeting, said he supported the idea of parking meters but would like to see the first 15 minutes free for drivers who need to just make a quick trip to drop off mail or pick up food from a restaurant.

Yarlott-Davis, who discussed how other Vermont towns have managed similar parking questions, suggested making meters in more desirable locations, like close to the center of town, more costly than those farther out of town.

Public Works Director Hannah Tyler added that modern technology, including a smartphone app that Hanover uses, has made setting up and using meter systems easier for residents and the town.

“We can design a really dynamic parking system and customize spot by spot by spot,” she said.

Others, like resident Becky Chollet, suggested cutting down on traffic by supporting other modes of transportation.

“We are all comfortable and familiar with driving our own personal vehicles,” Chollet said. “Downtown White River Junction does not lend itself to biking, and public transportation is not as robust as it could be.”

During her presentation at the meeting, Tyler revisited a 2017 parking study that included potential sites for a new parking lot or ways to improve existing lots.

One of those was the current South Main Street parking lot, which is currently being redesigned to add potentially 50 more parking spaces, though the cost of that project could be over $1.8 million, Tyler said.

“We’re looking at a substantial investment into our parking system for that project.”

Another suggestion was bringing parking to the lot where the Home Comfort Warehouse currently sits off Bridge Street. But because of its proximity to the White River, permitting may be an issue, Tyler said. She also said police have concerns about accessibility to the spot, because it’s close to a high-traffic area.

Other potential lots, like the one between the courthouse and the railroad in White River Junction, as well as the lot behind Elixir on South Main Street, have similar complications, she said.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first of four listening sessions planned for this year, all of which will provide the public a chance to give input on various issues in the town. The next session on July 13 concerns capital improvement projects.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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