Downtown parking garage edging closer to reality

City council tables vote May 14 amid concerns over Main Street parking

This public parking lot, accessible by West Center Street, may soon be home to a parking garage. The state is willing to pay for it, but the Moab City Council has concerns that are delaying an agreement. Photo by Carter Pape

The Moab City Council voted to table a vote on an agreement with the Utah Department of Transportation that would put the city in charge of constructing a parking garage in the block northwest of Main and Center streets. The parking garage would replace the city’s existing parking lot on that block.

As part of the agreement, UDOT would provide the $7.3 million required for the project, plus a $1 million buffer, in case cost estimates are off or prices rise. Any remaining funds after completion of the parking garage must be spent on Main Street improvements.

This requirement to spend the remainder on Main Street improvements created hesitation for Council Member Rani Derasary, and eventually led to the council tabling a final decision during a regular meeting on Tuesday, May 14.

If the city votes in favor of the contract with UDOT, design for the project would need to be completed within 14 months of the agreement being signed, according to City Engineer Chuck Williams. The city would then maintain the parking garage after its completion.

Derasary said during another meeting earlier in the day that she was worried that the contract might oblige the city to remove parallel parking on Main Street if any money were left over from the parking garage project.

In initial proposals from UDOT for Main Street improvements, a design outlined an idea to replace parallel parking along the road with bike lanes separated from car traffic by a curb. Businesses along Main Street lobbied against the change, and the council agreed not to pursue the plan.

However, the parking garage contract before the council on Tuesday included language that remainder funds be spent to “further the design and construction of Main Street improvements from 100 South to 200 North as detailed in the funding request.” Derasary said she was concerned that furthering the “funding request” mentioned implied that Main Street parking might be removed, as outlined in previous plans.

Ryan Anderson, the UDOT representative present at that meeting, attempted to alleviate those concerns, saying that the money would not necessarily need to be spent on removing Main Street parking.

“Funds remaining from the parking structure will be used to further improve downtown Moab Main Street,” Anderson told The Times-Independent. “What Main Street improvements will be done remains undefined and will be refined through the design process with Moab and UDOT working together.”

The council voted unanimously to table approval of the contract, pending a statement from UDOT that the city would not be contractually obligated to remove Main Street parallel parking if it agrees to the plan.

A recent study commissioned by the City of Moab concluded that parking in Moab is “ample,” leading to some criticism that the parking garage funding be spent differently.

“The goal for parking areas should be to achieve 85% utilization,” the report reads. “Most areas never reach that number (…) indicating an excess supply.”

Although parking downtown is generally available according to the study, parking stalls near where the parking garage is planned are the most heavily utilized in the city. Accordingly, Avenue Consultants, which completed the study and report on contract with the City of Moab, recommended the city move forward with the parking garage plans.

“That is the best location for additional parking as the most occupied parking is on Center Street west of Main Street, plus the State of Utah is providing funds for its construction,” Avenue said in its report.

Notable among the critics of the parking garage plan is Michael Liss, who has been pushing to reallocate the funding for the garage to pay for a shuttle and busing system in and between Moab and Arches National Park as a way to alleviate congestion inside the park.

The UDOT funding for the construction comes from what the department calls Recreation Hotspot Funding, a pool of money allocated by UDOT to mitigate the impacts of tourism in localities around the state. Liss had argued for reallocating the hotspot funding to build a shuttle.

Liss reiterated the idea during a recent meeting with Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon, UDOT representative Monte Aldridge and members of the Moab City and Grand County councils. Officials at that meeting expressed favor instead for keeping the money allocated for parking improvements.