If you’re driving to the state Capitol, beware: Beginning this summer, there will be less parking available, and you will be charged more if you manage to find a spot.
It’s a double whammy for state workers and visitors sparked by colliding budget concerns at the Legislature and the state Department of Enterprise Services (DES), which manages the campus.
The parking scarcity stems from the new five-story 1063 Block building under construction at the corner of Capitol Way South and 11th Avenue that has a September move-in date for tenants such as the State Patrol.
A 261-spot parking garage was torn down to make way for the roughly $86 million project, which officials expect will bring an estimated 300 new parkers to the campus along with more visitors.
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There was fierce debate in the Legislature over the project before it was approved in parts between 2013 and 2015 — with parking being just one flash point. Opponents said alternatives cheaper in the short term such as leasing or building elsewhere could have been secured, even with costly new parking.
But the 1063 building is estimated to cost less in the long term because of its energy efficiency and since the state wouldn’t have to pay endless rent, said former state Rep. Hans Dunshee, a Democrat who championed the 1063 project.
The Legislature eventually opted to build the 1063 Building, but wanted to save money by not paying for a replacement parking garage or other facilities to offset the new parkers.
Lawmakers instead directed DES to find “efficiencies” in current parking, said Dunshee, who left the Legislature in 2016.
Enterprise Services did find efficiencies, squeezing 133 more spaces into the existing Plaza Garage by making parking spots there smaller.
The agency also is opening some reserved parking spaces to more drivers — increasing capacity between 94 and 188 spots — and encouraging carpooling and other alternative parking strategies, said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Reynolds.
The additions help, DES officials say. Yet parking capacity is still going down, Reynolds said.
The result is a system that will be “maxed out,” and unable to handle another influx of parkers, particularly during legislative sessions, said Bob Covington, DES deputy director.
“There’s no more room after this,” Covington said.
On top of the parking crunch, DES is hiking parking rates July 1 to help fund its budget. It’s the first time prices have been raised in more than eight years and deemed necessary because the agency is running a deficit, Reynolds said.
Reynolds said the price still will be below market value for a similar, privately owned parking spot in Olympia.
Enterprise Services uses parking fees to operate and maintain the Capitol Campus, and parking must be at a rate that “meets financial requirements,” according to a slideshow presentation by DES.
State workers without reserved spots will see their rates jump from $25 to $35 a month unless they get a discount for ridesharing. Reserved spots will go from $35 to $49 a month. Metered visitor parking will see an increase of just 50 cents, from $1.50 an hour to $2 an hour.
The combination of higher prices for fewer spaces has some state workers steamed.
At a May public town hall held by DES about the parking prices, many complained about dents and scratches on their car doors caused by the smaller spaces in the restriped Plaza Garage. They said some people even double park to avoid car damage.
“We not only have to pay more to park, we have to pay to have our vehicles fixed unless we want to drive around with door dings on them,” said Katherine Vasquez, an employee at the Department of Social and Health Services, at the town hall. “And we have to circle round and round and round because there are not enough parking places.”
Vasquez, 60, has worked for the state for about 30 years, she told The Olympian and The News Tribune. DES officials at the meeting said the agency has a state patrol cadet out enforcing parking rules and said the smaller spaces are still big enough to avoid door damage if used correctly.
Vasquez has Republican allies in the parking debate. Leaders in the GOP were staunchly opposed to the 1063 building, in part because of parking concerns.
“Real people will struggle to find a place to park,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler of the current situation. “They will be charged more, and Enterprise Services really doesn’t care what they charge for parking.”
Schoesler, a Republican from Ritzville, said he wanted the construction project located elsewhere, perhaps at a site outside of downtown Olympia, where he says parking may have been more available and land cheaper. Leasing was also an option, he said.
Still, Republicans eventually gave in to Democrats because it was a “must have” during budget talks, Schoesler said, calling the 1063 Building Dunshee’s “boondoggle.”
Dunshee defended the project, saying parking is expensive and the use of existing spots on campus was “horribly inefficient.”
He pointed to a 2014 transportation study that said changes such as restriping and more carpooling could help avoid swamping the campus parking system during busy legislative sessions once the 1063 Building is open.
Dunshee did say new parking should be added for any new buildings on the campus going forward.
Even with worker complaints in mind, Sen. Jim Honeyford, a Republican from Sunnyside, said there is no short-term plan to build new parking.
Honeyford, who is the chief capital budget writer in the Senate, said his time and resources are aimed at pumping money into school construction for the next two-year budget.
Beth Doglio, an Olympia Democrat on the House Capital Budget committee, said the Legislature should continue to look at ways to expand parking for state employees “at no cost,” such as increasing commuting via bus or carpool and better using existing spaces.
Spending heavily on parking was not an option in the current Capital Budget, she said.
“I would much rather use that money for essential services like mental health, schools, protecting natural habitat,” Doglio said.
For now, paying more for door dings and circling for spots may be the future for some state workers and visitors.
Lawmakers and state workers “are concerned about no improvements but higher payments” for parking, Schoesler said. “I think usually if you raise your rent, it’s because you’re making improvements or maintenance.”