Wide load? Lawmakers get more space

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Wide load? Lawmakers get more space

Are lawmakers getting bigger or just their cars?

Either way, state legislators will soon have a little more space to maneuver at the Capitol when the new $24.4 million South Parking Deck opens across the street from the Gold Dome. Currently under construction, the 1,238-spot lot is expected to open this fall.

According to plans for the nine-story deck, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the garage will have two sizes of spaces. “Standard” parking spots will be 8 feet 6 inches wide, but “legislative” spots will be 10 feet wide.

If all the spaces were the size of the standard spot, an additional 42 people could park in the garage, and the additional footage equates to about $800,000 of the total cost.

But this isn’t really about the cost — if all the spaces were the smaller size, the garage would basically cost the same. The question is why lawmakers need the extra space.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, one of the leaner lawmakers, said legislators are known to fill out during the session.

“Well, it is part of the legislative lore that most new reps and senators gain the ‘freshman 15’ during our first year from eating lots of snacks and sitting around in session and committee meetings,” Peake said. “So maybe that’s the reason — to prepare for our expanding waistlines!”

Most of the state’s 236 lawmakers will park in the new garage — a few top leaders have spaces along the Capitol’s curb. Each member has a spot with his or her name on it.

The Georgia Building Authority, which builds and maintains state properties, said the real reason for the different size spots is far less interesting: It’s the way other state garages are now. Spokesman Paul Melvin said the nearby Butler Parking Deck, at the corner of Jesse Hill Jr. Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, has a mix of reserved and unreserved spots and that the former are wider. The practice will continue at the South Parking Deck, he said.

Lawmakers and most legislative staff now park in #1 Capitol Lot, across Capitol Avenue from the dome. That lot, while convenient, is old and features much more narrow spaces. An unscientific measurement of spaces there shows many are as narrow as 7 feet 5 inches, while some are 8 feet 6 inches and some are even larger. The #1 lot is set to be demolished after the new one opens.

The issue is near and dear to legislators. Parking spots and office space are two things legislators love to complain about — who’s getting what spot and which office. Who has to park in the rain and who has the smallest work space are among common gripes.

For some lawmakers, the current parking spaces are a tight fit for their big SUVs or pickups.

“I really don’t know why that was done, but I do know with folks from all over the state, we do have men and women from agricultural areas who drive pretty darn big trucks, so that could possibly have something to do with it, and if so, it’s probably a good idea,” Peake said.

The tight quarters in the current garage can lead to heated tempers. In this case, bigger might equal better, state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta, said.

“I think there is enough friction at the Capitol to not have people bumping their doors into each other,” Carter said with a laugh.

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