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Originally published Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Auburn tries to fix parking problems

Auburn officials hope a new pay-to-park program downtown will be the ticket to fixing a growing parking crunch. "All of the south-end rail...

Times Southeast Bureau

Auburn officials hope a new pay-to-park program downtown will be the ticket to fixing a growing parking crunch.

"All of the south-end rail stations are getting slammed," said Dana Hinman, spokeswoman for Auburn. "We want people to take the train but they are being discouraged by the parking situation."

But a guaranteed spot in the Sound Transit parking garage comes at a cost.

Residents, retailers and commuters who used to pay $10 a month for a permit to park in the garage will now pay $100 a month.

Auburn and the Auburn Downtown Association announced last week that 102 city parking spaces are now available to commuters who purchase a permit from the city.

Under the city's new program, drivers with permits can park in one of 52 city-owned spaces in the Auburn Station garage at A Street Southwest or one of 50 spaces in a temporary gravel lot the city has opened on A Street Southeast.

Monthly permits for those 102 spots cost $100 to park in the Auburn Station garage or $40 in the temporary lot.

The new program replaces the city's old permit system, which set aside 41 spaces in the garage.

"People think parking is a right, but if you look at what it actually costs, it's not something that can remain free," said Al Hicks, senior planner in the city of Auburn.

Adults already pay $7.50 for a round-trip ticket from Auburn to Seattle on the Sounder or $135 a month for an unlimited train pass.

Hicks said the $100 a month spots cater to commuters who want more flexibility in the morning.

Many have called the current parking situation at the train station a "disaster," with many drivers opting to park illegally on private driveways and property, risking a ticket of $30 or more, rather than miss a morning train.

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"It's one of those things that's so frustrating," said Carolyn Robertson, intergovernmental liaison for Auburn. "You empathize with the people who are trying to commute, residents and retailers."

City officials had hoped Sound Transit would build a second parking garage at the site of the C Street Southwest parking lot on the west side of the railroad tracks, but voters in November defeated Proposition 1, a roads-and-transit package that would have included money for the new garage.

City leaders say the new pay-to-park plan is one of several programs aimed at meeting the needs of Sounder riders who leave from Auburn Station.

Auburn has also proposed a new shuttle system that would slash the number of cars coming from one of its largest neighborhoods, Lakeland Hills.

Auburn Station currently has about 500 free spaces available for commuters.

During a fall 2007 Metro survey, King County found that 97 percent of the spots were being used by commuters.

The same study showed that 83 percent of the spaces in the Sound Transit parking garage in Kent were in use.

The city of Auburn, which has oversight of 180 spaces in the six-story Auburn Station garage, is talking to Sound Transit about leasing spaces to the transportation agency for use by commuters, planning officials said.

Before the new permit program, city spaces were set aside for retail and city use only.

The city allowed residents to park in spaces in the garage for free during major construction on Interstate 5 last summer.

Hinman said the new commuter-parking program will last indefinitely.

Permits can be purchased at Auburn City Hall, 25 W. Main St., until Jan. 31.

Beginning in February, permits can be purchased from the Auburn Downtown Association at 125 E. Main St.

Karen Johnson: 253-234-8605 or karenjohnson@seattletimes.com

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