Middlebury putting ‘charge’ into Mill Street parking lot

MIDDLEBURY — Finding a parking space in downtown Middlebury can be a challenge during business hours.
But town officials are arguing there’s adequate parking; you just need to know where to look. And not enough people are looking at the municipal lot on Mill Street in the Frog Hollow district, where only 30 percent of the 66 spaces are typically occupied, according to a 2012 parking study.
With that in mind, Middlebury officials are taking two steps they hope will make the Mill Street lot more of a draw for parking-starved shoppers, workers and businesspeople. The town recently installed two electric car charging terminals in the lot and has applied for a $56,000 grant that would make the necessary lighting, landscaping and sign improvements to make it an official park-and-ride location.
“Our hope is to get the word out that there is public parking down here (off Mill Street), and plenty of it, with an easy walk to the downtown,” Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said.
Word has certainly been trickling down to electric car owners. Ted Dunakin, Middlebury’s director of planning and zoning, pointed to records showing that 46 electric car charges have been dispensed at the “Level 2” Mill Street charging station since it was installed in late July. The Level 2 charger can fully charge an electric vehicle — like a Chevrolet Volt, a Nissan Leaf or a Toyota Prius Plug-in — in four to six hours, Dunakin noted.
The other terminal is Level 3, and able to charge a vehicle in around 45 minutes, said Dunakin, who is researching use figures for that machine. Vehicles need to be specially equipped to receive this faster charge.
The cost of the two terminals, including installation and related equipment and services, was $37,000, of which 75 percent was defrayed through a grant from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. A local match was required to cover the remaining 25 percent. Green Mountain Power contributed that local match through donation of one of the terminals, Ramsay and Dunakin noted.
It’s an assist that was welcome and made sense, according to local officials. After all, GMP owns the charging units and is responsible for their maintenance. The host towns are responsible for the associated meter and the cost of the electricity dispensed through the terminals. For now, Middlebury will offer free electricity to those who use the two vehicle charging stations. That’s expected to cost $2,000 to $3,000 per year, an expense that will be paid through Middlebury’s planning and zoning budget.
“We wanted to encourage use of the electrical vehicles and the Mill Street lot,” Dunakin said of the free electricity.
But it probably won’t stay free forever. The town will have the ability to activate a fee charging mechanism at the stations. Each station has two ports for service plug-ins.
These two stations supplement two other charging machines that have been in operation at the Addison County Regional Planning Commission headquarters at 14 Seminary St.
New Haven resident Toborri Bruhl assisted Dunakin in set-up of the Mill Street terminals. There are two Nissan Leaf vehicles in the Bruhl family.
“While Middlebury already had two chargers, they were starting to be in-use more often as more people are driving electric cars,” Bruhl said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The new stations have more than doubled the number of public charging spots in Middlebury, and are conveniently located close to downtown. I often find myself at the bookstore, or Mr. Ups, or Greg’s Supermarket while I’m waiting for a charge. In addition, one of the new chargers is a Level-3 fast charger, which will charge a Nissan Leaf in just a bit over 30 minutes. This has been extremely handy — I pass through Middlebury on my way home every day, and sometimes stop to shop or eat while plugging in for 15 minutes or so.”
GMP’s Jenn Cortez, whose job title is “innovation champion,” said the utility is pleased to see the charging stations up and running in Middlebury. She said GMP’s next focus is to get some charging stations in Rutland. It’s all part of a regional effort to establish a “green corridor” from Montreal to Boston, a route that is to be equipped with enough public charging stations to allow electric drivers to make that trek smoothly. There are currently around 700 electric vehicles registered in the state of Vermont, though others travel in and out of the state, Cortez noted.
Meanwhile, state transportation officials are reviewing a 2015 Municipal Park-and-Ride Grant application from Middlebury that would pay for substantial improvements to the Mill Street lot. Specifically, it would pay for five light poles and bases, the necessary conduit and wiring, landscaping, asphalt, signs, landscaping and engineering to make the lot more inviting as well as an officially designated park-and-ride lot.
“The town recognizes the Mill Street parking lot as an ideal location for day-long and overnight parking for commuters, thereby freeing up space in other locations for short-term parking,” the town’s application letter states.
“Providing long-term parking a short distance from public transportation resources and three state highways, the lot is perfectly situated in the heart of the village.”
Ramsay said the parking off Mill Street will become even more critical once work begins on replacement of the two downtown railroad overpasses.
State officials recently asked about conducting a site visit at the Mill Street lot in order to better evaluate Middlebury’s application. If approved, the lot improvements would occur next year, according to Ramsay.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” she said of the grant application.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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