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Normal council gets peek at Uptown parking study, future of EV charging stations

An exterior view west -- during the day of the parking deck outside of Uptown Station, on Beaufort Street. A large blue and white sign reads "Uptown Station, City Hall, Amtrak Parking" and includes an arrow pointed toward the entrance. Outside, a white sedan passes. In the distance, the Marriott hotel can be seen.
Emily Bollinger
The parking deck on Beaufort Street at Uptown Station is one of the areas considered in a new parking study the Normal Town Council discussed on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023.

Normal leaders have started preliminary talks about the future of Uptown parking, and how to meet charging needs for electric vehicles.

On Monday, before its regular council meeting, the Normal Town Council gathered for a two-hour work session to discuss the topics.

City Manager Pam Reece said the purpose was for council members to provide town staff direction on how to do more research on both subjects.

“We’re just seeking council opinions, frankly,” she said.

Parking changes could include increased rates

A 2021 parking study, completed for Normal to address parking in Uptown finds the town should consider raising parking deck rates, and charge for street parking. The study also calls for installing credit-card readers.

Key to the suggested revenue increases is the expected maintenance costs for the town’s three parking decks in upcoming years.

“We fully recognize the hot potato that is parking — parking discussions — in literally every community, USA,” said Eric Hanson, assistant city manager. The report is just a study, he added, with consultants providing recommendations based on best practices.

National Parking Consultant firm Desman covered operations and management, and technology. It also looked at current inventory of spaces — and whether that was adequate for the town’s current and projected needs.

Currently, Uptown has about 600 spaces — with street parking, lots and parking decks. Parking decks are free for the first hour, then paid after that.

“Most communities don’t have the most convenient parking free,” said Reece.

She asked the council to consider modifying parking rates — whether to keep the first hour in decks free, whether to add paid street parking, and whether to charge Amtrak riders fees to park at the College Avenue parking deck.

Mayor Chris Koos called addressing the parking system “the elephant in the room,” adding as the parking decks get older, and require more significant investment, the town will need funding.

Street parking, and Uptown lots are free. While operational costs have increased over the past decade, parking rates have remained the same.

Finance director Andrew Huhn reviewed the study recommendations, noting the consultants found the town’s parking operation is not being fully supported by rates.

Other possibilities included creating dynamic pricing, meaning charging different rates depending on peak usage times, and moving town fleet vehicles from Uptown Station deck to the Beaufort Street deck.

“We need to take an incremental approach, and a kind of comprehensive approach to managing parking — and that process can evolve over time,” said Huhn.

Reece noted the council also could consider waiting to make changes until after the Uptown underpass construction is completed. The town has had the same parking situation for more than a decade, said Reece, adding there is plenty of time to develop new recommendations.

EV charging station network

Mark Clinch, Normal facilities director, and town planner Mercy Davison led a presentation about the town’s current set-up for EV charging stations, and possibilities for expansion.

McLean County has seen a more than 600% increase in registered electric vehicles since 2018, Davison said. Currently, it has about 1,300 registered EVs. On average, about 1 of every 10 cars on Normal roads is electric.

Two women,and a man sit at a long wooden table, with microphones on the table. They are addressing the Normal Town Council in the council chambers.
Michele Steinbacher
Town of Normal staff address the council, about the town's electric vehicle charging stations' plan.

Council member Karyn Smith said with the federal government now offering a $7,500 incentive to buy EVs, that growth is bound to continue.

The local increase is due in part, to the growth of Rivian Motors that has a plant in town. But there’s also more people buying multiple brands of EV car models, in general. Normal began its push to be identified as an EVTown back around 2010 — after Mitsubishi announced they'd be making an electric car, said Davison.

"We're nationally known as being a community that's forward thinking about transportation, especially as it pertains to electric vehicles," she said.

Town staff’s main questions for the council centered on prioritizing. Davison asked whether the council wants the town to pursue grant opportunities for getting more stations, or move forward more quickly and build the costs into town budgets. Another question was whether to require drivers to pay for using charging stations.

Currently, the town has nearly 50 federally-funded charging stations — most of those are Level 2. The first Level 3-powered station has just been installed in the Uptown parking deck. The town has also applied for a grant to install a Level 3 model at Sprague's Service Center, 305 Pine Street, tied to Route 66 tourism.

Koos said in a trip he made in an EV, he observed “It’s Level 3, across the country,” he said.

Clinch called trying to determine the best approach to outfitting the town with charging stations for the near future a challenging experience. Other than looking at the West Coast, most communities the size of Normal don’t have that kind of EV charging infrastructure in place, he said.

Tracking EV technology also is challenging, said Clinch. “I would equate it to what I assume the Wild West was like," he said.

Davison shared a map showing where current charging stations are located, and another map where the town recommends installing new ones. Most of those are in parks.

The council shared a consensus that users of charging stations should be charged a fee, and that instead of purchasing charging stations, the town should research leasing them instead.

Final plat OK’d for HCC ag building site

After the work session, the council reconvened for its regular meeting, which lasted about 10 minutes.

One vote approved the entire consent agenda, including finalizing paperwork for the plat where Heartland Community College is building its new agriculture complex on West Raab Road.

The nearly 30,000-square-foot classroom building is set to open in the spring.

In other business the council:

  • Ok’d spending about $91,000 on a new truck, and attachments. The truck is from Bob Ridings Fleet Sales; the lift, dump bed and snow plow are from Koenig Body and Equipment.
  • Rejected the only bid received to update Uptown Station parking deck staircases. The bid came in too high. Instead, the updates will be rolled into a future project, with a wider scope.
  • Renewed the town’s membership in the Mutual Aid Box Association. Normal is among more than 2,500 communities that are part of the group that focuses on sharing first responders during natural disasters and other emergencies.
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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