Town seeks grant for commuter parking (7/30/09)

New 20-space lot proposed for Town Hall

July 30, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Commuters may one day be able to carpool or catch a bus at Williston Town Hall.

The town has applied for a state grant to help fund a 20-space park-and-ride extending from the existing lot behind Town Hall. The estimated $150,000 project would provide parking for commuters and possibly a bus stop in Williston Village.

Spaces would be arranged in two rows and separated from the existing lot by an island of green space. Buses would access the lot via a one-way driveway.

The park-and-ride would use a small slice of town-owned land referred to as the Lyons property. The 8-acre parcel in the past has been eyed for an affordable housing project or a community center.

A school bus that goes to Champlain Valley Union High School already makes pick-ups at the existing lot, Town Manager Rick McGuire said. The Chittenden County Transportation Authority is interested in making the proposed park-and-ride one stop along a proposed route running along U.S. 2 from Williston Village to Burlington.

“We anticipate the initial level of service into Williston Village to be commuter-oriented, drawing potential riders from areas beyond walking distance to Williston Town Hall,” wrote CCTA General Manager Chris Cole in a letter supporting the grant application. “Therefore, having a park-and-ride available in the village would greatly enhance the ridership potential of the route.”

The town of Williston, located in the center of the state’s most populous county, could be considered the commuter capital of Vermont. Census figures show that the vast majority of people who live in Williston work elsewhere. And a previous town study concluded that thousands commute here to work in the big retail stores and other businesses.

But Williston is not among the dozens of Vermont towns that have a park-and-ride. The state closed the old facility here more than a decade ago.

The town has long lobbied for a replacement. Two years ago, the Selectboard signed off on a pair of proposals for new state-funded park-and-rides on Vermont 2A, one south of Interstate 89 and another one closer to Taft Corners, the location preferred by the town.

Wayne Davis, local transportation facilities supervisor with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said conceptual plans have been drawn up for the facility south of I-89 across from Hurricane Lane, and the state continues to look at potential sites for the other park-and-ride. But he did not know when construction of either facility would begin.

McGuire said a village park-and-ride would still benefit commuters even if the other park-and-rides are built.

“Well, this serves the village and possibly more than one bus service,” he said.

The park-and-ride faces several obstacles. Because the site includes wetlands, the town must obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as state and local permits.

Public Works Director Neil Boyden said he expects the permitting process to be similar to an earlier expansion of a parking lot after the town swapped land with the National Guard Armory. He said that project took between one and two years to plan and permit.

Funding is also uncertain. The state Legislature budgeted only $250,000 for the grants, and many towns seek funding each year.

Davis said last year 22 municipalities applied for grants and nine received money. He expects to receive a similar number of applications before this year’s deadline on Friday.

Grant amounts have in the past ranged from $6,000 to $75,000, Davis said. So it seems likely Williston would have to cover at least half the cost of the park-and-ride.

Town officials said impact fees collected from developers could provide some of the funding. And Boyden noted that town employees could do the labor, which as a rule of thumb comprises about half the cost.

Boyden was cautiously optimistic about the chances of piecing together funding and winning permits for the park-and-ride.

“I think it is a doable project,” he said. “I just think it’s going to take some time and explanation.”