Bath Iron Works is redistributing some of its workforce to a facility in Brunswick to make room, and parking, for the 1,000 people it hired this year. The shipyard’s 6,800 employees are known to clog Washington Street  and Leeman Highway in Bath during shift change every afternoon. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald

BATH — Bath Iron Works, one of Maine’s largest employers, is redistributing portions of its workforce to free up space and parking after hiring 1,000 new employees this year with plans to more than match that next year.

“We are currently renovating the former Surface Ship Support Center on Bath Road in Brunswick as a new facility for office workers who do not need to be at the main shipyard in Bath,” BIW Spokesman David Hench said. “That should relieve some of the pressure on available parking in and around the Bath shipyard while creating opportunities for facilities upgrades within the shipyard.”

Hench declined to comment on how many workers will be moved to the new facility.

BIW, a subsidiary of global aerospace and defense company General Dynamics, has 6,800 employees and plans to boost its workforce by 1,200 in 2021, according to Hench.

Hench said the company’s hiring push stems from the need to increase production “so we can deliver two ships per year and increase the ability to win new work.

“The hiring also offsets the loss of some workers to retirement so the overall increase in the workforce is somewhat less than the total number of new hires,” he said.

Providing parking for all those employees has been a longstanding issue for the shipyard because it sits between the Kennebec River and a residential neighborhood and abuts downtown Bath. The shipyard workers are also known for clogging traffic on Washington Street and Leeman Highway during the shift change at 3:30 p.m.

According to MaineDOT Spokesman Paul Merrill, an average of 7,500 cars drove on Washington Street by Leeman Highway daily in 2019. In the same year, 12,520 drove by the former Surface Ship Support Center on Bath Road in Brunswick, according to MaineDOT traffic data.

To combat this, Bath and Bath Iron Works partnered with the Maine Department of Transportation to conduct a traffic study aimed at easing the strain of limited parking for shipyard employees and residents in the South End, as well as improving traffic flow during shift change.

Marc Meyers, Bath’s assistant city manager, said BIW offering free parking at satellite lots outside of Bath has helped reduce traffic, but “issues certainly still exist and BIW adding to the workforce can elevate those issues.”

“BIW recognizes those challenges and we’re appreciative of them recognizing that and working to find solutions,” said Meyers. “We’re trying to find ways for shipyard employees and south end residents to co-exist and keep everyone safe.”

Meyers said plans to change the roads in the south end near BIW based on the traffic study have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but “the city’s transportation committee is reviewing items and talking with the MaineDOT about how the city and the state can partner to find solutions.” He said residents should expect changes in the next six to 12 months.

To distribute workers’ cars, BIW uses 1,604 parking spaces spread across 16 parking lots so workers can park for free, according to the traffic study. This includes three satellite lots — at the Taste of Maine restaurant parking lot in Woolwich, the MaineDOT Park and Ride lot on State Road in Bath off Route 1 and the Maine Gravel parking lot in West Bath.

The shipyard provides buses to shuttle workers to and from the satellite lots, but buses can only be filled to half-capacity due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements. To compensate, BIW has “significantly increased the number of shuttle bus trips to accommodate the need for passengers to observe social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hench wrote.

The shipyard doesn’t allow workers to carpool due to the risk of spreading COVID-19 between workers, especially after three shipbuilders tested positive for COVID-19 in one week after they carpooled to work this summer.

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