By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Four years ago, Santa Rosa lost 148 downtown parking spaces when Caltrans started using two city parking lots as a staging area for the widening of Highway 101.
Now those spaces are returning, thanks to a city project restoring parking on the site, located just east of Railroad Square directly under Highway 101 between Third and Fifth streets.
“We’re delighted,” said Lynda Angell, president of the Historic Railroad Square Association.
The 165 spaces are expected to open Monday. The project cost about $750,000, including paving, lighting and parking kiosks, an investment the city’s parking district expects to recoup through higher parking fees, said Deputy Parking Director Cheryl Woodward.
The new lots are larger than the original free parking areas the city had operated since 1981 because Caltrans demolished several buildings on the site and incorporated the additional space into the city’s lease, which now runs through 2034, she said.
The large concrete supports holding up the new section of highway limited the number of new spaces that could be created, leaving a net gain of just 17 additional spaces, Woodward said.
Lighting was a key element because the new overpass shades the area more than before. Removal of the buildings — which were derelict and attracted vagrants — combined with the better lighting help make the area feel safer and more attractive, Woodward said.
The lots will offer longer-term parking — 10 hours versus 2 hours for street parking — to encourage use by employees of area businesses and shoppers planning longer visits.
Eight parking payment stations, like those placed around the downtown in recent months, were installed Wednesday.
“This is technology that the city should have switched to 10 years ago,” city employee Carl Collins said as he finished work on the stations.