BIW workers walk to the parking lot on Castine Avenue, near the shipyard’s south gate, on their way home on Friday, April 9. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Bath took control of a permitted parking lot on Castine Avenue in the South End, mainly used by Bath Iron Works employees, but the city says it won’t stay a parking lot forever.

Assistant City Manager Marc Meyers said the city eventually plans to turn the parking lot into neighborhood green space, such as a park or playground. However, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the city’s plans.

“It’s still the plan for this parking lot to be turned into green space, but the city recognizes BIW has a challenge with shuttling employees to the shipyard during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Meyers. “We’re trying to work with BIW so their employees can still get to work safely.”

City leaders hope reducing parking in the South End neighborhood would encourage BIW workers to use the free satellite lots BIW provides employees, reducing traffic during the shipyard’s 3:30 p.m. shift change.

“This is an opportunity to reduce the pedestrian and vehicle conflicts in the South End,” said Meyers, “While there’s only one existing house on Castine Avenue, it’s surrounded by residential homes and multi-family units.”

Ben Sherry, a Russell Street resident, which runs parallel to Castine Avenue, said he’d like to have a park for his two young children, especially if it reduces traffic.

“It’d be really nice to have a park there; I’d be thrilled,” said Sherry. “At 3:30, guys in pickup trucks rip through here. Everyone’s in a rush to get home.”

Ken Victoria lives on Spring Street, around the corner from Castine Avenue. He said he’d like to have a park nearby for his 7-year-old grandson. He said his grandson comes to his house in the afternoon, but Victoria won’t let him play the front yard during shift change.

“There are kids who live around here and (BIW workers) are driving around like maniacs,” he said.

Although some local residents would like a neighborhood park, especially if creating it would reduce traffic in their neighborhood, BIW employees argued Castine Avenue is a dangerous place for a park because traffic wouldn’t be reduced significantly.

Brydon Page and Zach Woodbury both live on Spring Street and have worked at BIW for two years. They agreed eliminating the Castine Avenue parking lot won’t help the neighborhood’s traffic problem.

“Parking has always been bad and now BIW is hiring more people, so the problem isn’t going to go away,” said Page. “Creating a park wouldn’t reduce traffic, it’d just push it somewhere else.”

The city has struggled to balance the needs of both South End residents and BIW’s roughly 6,900 workers.

The company has hired nearly 3,000 new employees in the past two years and plans to hire about 2,000 more this year, BIW President Dirk Lesko wrote in a report last month.

As the shipyard’s workforce continues the COVID-19 pandemic has limited how many people can fit in one shuttle bus or van, limiting the effectiveness of BIW’s satellite lots.

In 2019 the city, in partnership with the Maine DOT and BIW conducted a traffic study to find ways to reduce traffic and increase safety in the South End. 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.

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.

Meyers said the parking lot is here to stay for the next year, but city leaders will re-evaluate their options next year.

Parking in the lot from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays requires a permit, which can be purchased through the police department for $45 per month, according to Police Chief Michael Field. The lot has 63 spaces, which generate just shy of $35,000 in annual revenue for the city.

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