BIW employees rush out of the shipyard during shift change, eager to leave town before shipyard traffic seize the streets. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — Bath officials may be tightening parking restrictions in the South End neighborhood to deter Bath Iron Works employees from parking on residential streets.

According to Police Chief Mike Field, parking would be restricted to one hour on the residential streets between Washington and High streets from Route 1/Leeman Highway to Lemont Street. Most of those streets limit on-street parking to two hours. All residents would be given a free parking permit that allows them to park on the side of the road for an unlimited amount of time.

Field estimated the police department receives about one call per week from South End residents about BIW workers parking in their neighborhood. He said several hundred cars from BIW workers park in the South End neighborhood each day.

“We’re balancing a major employer with a residential neighborhood,” Field said. “We want to make sure residents can use the streets they live on and not be overtaken by commuter parking. If the neighborhood wants to do this, it’ll reduce traffic, noise and accidents in the neighborhood.”

Field said about 2,000 permits would be given to residents, which would need to be renewed annually. The program would cost the city about $10,800 annually.

In addition to limiting parking on residential streets to one hour, Field said parking ticket fines would increase to $50 for a first ticket, $300 on a second offense, and the car would be towed or get a boot on a tire on a third offense. The city’s current parking ticket fines are $15 for a first offense and $35 for a second offense.

Christopher Mank lives on Spring Street, which is directly across the street from the shipyard’s South Gate. Mank said parking has become a problem as the shipyard has grown in the past 20 years, crowding his neighborhood with cars.

“Many are unwilling to use remote parking areas and shuttle as they are supposed too,” said Mank. “No real effort goes into requiring this for employment. As a result, we have the free-for-all that’s the basis of their parking problem.”

While Mank said he likes the idea of a parking permit program, he believes the city shouldn’t be responsible for organizing and funding it.

“It falls on General Dynamics to fix this,” he said. “If they took a harder stance on this with their employees and accepted the fact that having to enforce parking restrictions is part of what goes with a larger workforce. Without any repercussions, the employees will always seek the easy to use parking options — it’s human nature.”

“We are committed to being a good neighbor and to that end are open to working with state and local officials to develop multimodal transportation solutions that enable employees to travel safely to and from the good paying jobs at BIW, the state’s largest manufacturing employer,” said BIW Spokesman David Hench.

Fred Elwell, a lifetime Corliss Street resident, said he’s in favor of the parking permit program because he believes it’ll increase safety within his neighborhood.

Elwell said Corliss Street has a sharp hill in the middle and when cars park along the side of the street it becomes narrow. He said he fears one day someone will cross the road and if someone is driving down the street at rush hour, they won’t see the pedestrian until it’s too late.

“Corliss Street is a small street and you can’t see what’s on the other side when you’re coming up the hill,” said Elwell. “At 3:30 I hear (BIW workers) zooming by. Sooner or later someone is going to come down the hill and there won’t be enough room. It’s a recipe for an accident.”

Tim Suitter, spokesman for Local S6, BIW’s largest union, said he understands residents’ frustrations and said BIW workers aren’t thrilled with their parking options either.

“Parking has been an issue for a long time and it has never really been addressed,” said Suitter. “It’s something that’s going to keep resurfacing until all parties involved can find a solution.”

Deborah Bedard, a BIW employee of 30 years, described BIW’s parking as “nonexistent.”

“This town doesn’t have enough parking to support BIW employees,” said Bedard, who parks in one of the company’s satellite lots in West Bath, then takes a shuttle to and from the shipyard.

“In 30 years I’ve never seen the company hire buses to help with parking,” she said. “This company is up against a wall.”

Bedard said it’s frustrating to watch the company find more places to put more workers while hiring more employees, so no progress is made.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the parking crunch, Suitter said.

“Carpool vans stopped and more people are driving by themselves, which created more parking problems,” said Suitter. “They’re not piling 13 guys in a van anymore. There has been more emphasis on those satellite lots, but those are pretty full now. We’re hiring a lot of new people, which contributes to the issue as well.”

Although Suitter sympathizes with BIW workers, he also understands residents’ safety concerns because his 13-year-old son waits for the school bus on a busy intersection in the South End neighborhood.

“He has to cross the road and wait for the bus while everybody is coming down that road in the morning,” said Suitter. “In the winter it’s dark too and can get dangerous.”

BIW employees Steve Marcotte and his sister, Makayla, both pay $10 per week to park their cars in a permit-required lot because it’s more convenient than parking in one of the company’s satellite lots. They agreed they’d like BIW to build a parking garage on one of the company-owned lots next to the shipyard.

“Even if the garage was seniority based, it’d help free up spaces for other people,” said Makayla Marcotte.

Hench said the company “provides parking for all its employees, in close proximity to the shipyard and at remote parking lots served by a continuous shuttle.”

“The city of Bath has been a valuable partner in addressing some of the challenges posed by COVID-19, such as allowing our employees to use some municipal parking resources during the pandemic,” said Hench.

Steve Marcotte said he doesn’t think Bath’s proposed parking program will stop shipbuilders from parking on residential streets because “they already take a risk parking there now.”

Peter Owen, Bath city manager, said a parking program was one of the many suggested solutions to reducing traffic and increasing safety from a 2019 traffic study the city conducted alongside the Maine Department of Transportation and BIW.

Owen said the $75,000 study was spawned by the death of a BIW worker who was struck by a car on Washington Street while walking to work in 2016. The tragedy highlighted the dire need for increased safety in the South End.

“We’ve been getting complaints for years about people parking on lawns and the way cars race out of the South End at 3:30,” said Owen. “We had been going around and around with lots of parking issues with BIW and we weren’t getting anywhere. The death was the culmination of how obvious problems were.”

The parking program is also one of the less expensive and less radical ideas, compared to the suggestion of making Washington Street one-way from 3:30-4 p.m. during the mass exodus of BIW workers during shift change.

BIW workers — both in cars and aboard shuttle busses — shuttle clog Washington Street in Bath on their way home from work. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

 

“What (the study) identified was there are just too many cars parked in the South End to manage in any particular way,” said Owen. “Every solution had to do with getting cars out of the South End.”

Owen said BIW has “stepped up their end” by increasing the number of satellite lots employees can park in and increasing the frequency of shuttle busses to and from those lots.

According to the traffic study report, BIW uses 1,604 parking spaces spread across 16 parking lots. This includes three satellite lots – the Taste of Maine parking lot in Woolwich, the MaineDOT Park and Ride lot on State Road in Bath off Route 1, and the Maine Gravel parking lot in West Bath.

Councilor Terry Nordmann voiced his support for the idea, but cautioned city officials to “tread lightly” when introducing major changes.

“This sounds like a necessary program, but I would hate for the city of Bath to be thought of as an inhospitable place for employees to come,” said Nordmann. “I know something has to be done down on Washington Street and the area around BIW … but we need to tread lightly. Introducing this sort of parking program to the city flies in the face of the welcoming we like to do for people to come into Bath.”

Field said meetings will be held this summer to gauge the mood of South End residents. If 75% of residents want the parking program, it will be taken to the city council in November or December. If approved, Field said he will begin enforcing the program in January 2022.


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