Will 2017 be the last year of free Vail summer parking? | VailDaily.com

Will 2017 be the last year of free Vail summer parking?

Vail's Lionshead parking structure filled most weekdays in the summer of 2016, due largely to construction worker traffic. That traffic is expected to ease this summer, but will pick up again in 2018.

VAIL — Summer parking in Vail will remain free for at least one more year. But it might be the last year.

At a Friday meeting of the Vail Parking Task Force — a recently-revived volunteer group — members learned that the summer parking shortage of 2016 should ease this year.

With work winding down on the first phase of an expansion at Vail Valley Medical Center and the expected completion of The Lion condominiums, there won't be nearly as many construction workers using the Lionshead Village parking structure. On the other hand, a number of smaller projects in Vail Village may shift those work vehicles to that structure.

Still, the number of workers in the resort areas will be way down from 2016.

That will change in 2018.

Town of Vail Public Works Department Director Greg Hall told the group that work on the second phase of the medical center's expansion will replace that facility's existing parking structures until new ones are built. Add in new projects — including the Marriott Residence Inn in West Vail — and the town's continued summer business success, and parking may be tricky.

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Staying off frontage roads

The goal is to keep cars off of the unimproved areas of the town's frontage roads as much as possible.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is the managing authority on both the town's frontage roads. The town and the state have an agreement to allow no more than 30 days on those roads. Town policy is to split those days evenly between the summer and winter seasons.

In 2016, cars were parked 22 days on South Frontage Road.

There are several ways to respond to the construction crunch.

Mayor Dave Chapin said the town needs to insist on parking plans from developers and construction companies, including shuttling workers in from remote parking spaces.

People who work in the resort villages should also be encouraged to not park in the town's structures. In the summer, people who live in Vail could bicycle into the resort areas.

But task force member Andrew Lanes told the group that getting employees to work without their cars will also require enhanced bus service in town.

Vail Mayor Dave Chapin added that the town needs to work more closely with Eagle County's ECO Transit system to beef up service into town.

"If we want to improve, we're going to have to throw some money (at the issue)," task force member Don Marks said.

Chapin agreed, saying that parking and transit in town has "gotten to the point where there has to be a financial commitment."

That commitment could take several forms.

Again, this year will see free summer parking in Vail's parking structures. But town officials may enforce regulations more strictly about lengthy parking. Officials are also likely to study who's using the structures, and for how long.

With free parking assured for this year, there may be some sort of charge for summer parking. What that will look like is still a matter for discussion.

Grace periods: long or short?

Task force member Bill Suarez told the group he'd like to see a liberal period of free parking — say, four hours — before anyone has to pay. And, he added, a number of business owners will complain.

"You've got a lot of people fearful that we're not welcoming (with paid summer parking)," Suarez said.

But Vail Parking Supervisor Kevin Berga asked the task force to consider a different approach.

Noting that 73 percent of all winter parking customers don't pay anything — a number that includes pass holders — Berga recommended having a short period of free parking and a lower fee.

"I'd rather see an hour free and $5 for the rest of the day on weekdays," Berga said, adding that the fee could go to $10 per day on weekends.

Chapin said the town council will make the ultimate decision on what parking fees look like.

In addition to what's euphemistically called "managed parking," Chapin said the town is also looking to expand the supply of parking.

Perhaps the most likely spot for a new structure is at Red Sandstone Elementary School on the north side of Interstate 70. Voters approved a tax hike last fall for Eagle County Schools to upgrade and renovate facilities. Red Sandstone is on the list for some extensive renovations, but the town of Vail owns the property. Chapin said the renovation could include some structured parking. Paying for that parking — which costs about $100,000 per space — could be a joint effort between the town and Vail Resorts, which has a standing commitment to put $4.3 million into town parking facilities.

Chapin said there are other opportunities around town that would also require partnerships.

"The call for action is now," Chapin said. "I want to look back and say, 'In 2017, that group and the council addressed this."

By the numbers

22: Days of frontage road parking in the summer of 2016.

825: Daily construction workers Vail in June, 2016.

250: Estimated workers in Vail in June, 2017.

$100,000: Per-space cost of building parking structures.