Construction of the new campus parking garage to accompany the new basketball arena will cause the temporary loss of approximately 600 parking spots next spring, according to former Director of Parking and Transportation Isaac Astill.
Astill addressed the effects of the parking garage’s construction at the Oxford-University Transit Commission meeting Nov. 13.
“The parking that will be lost during the construction project is going to push more and more people out to the South Lot,” he said.
Astill confirmed that the 600-spot loss will affect faculty, staff and commuter parking, pushing faculty and staff into what is now commuter parking and relocating commuters to open parking lots further away from campus.
“With us losing all this commuter parking,” Astill said, “our goal is for more to use the South Lot, ride the shuttles and increase ridership.”
The news raises concern among both faculty and students.
“I think you’re going to see a decrease in faculty members being here unless they’re teaching classes, which will hurt student interactions,” said Kathleen Wickham, associate professor of journalism.
Despite faculty worries about the future of the parking dilemma, Astill said increased use of the shuttle system has the potential to alleviate parking woes on campus.
“On a regular basis right now we have about 1,000 (parking spots) empty,” Astill said. “So even though we’re losing 600, we have plenty of room to absorb that. It’s just a matter of getting people to know where those are and consider using the buses if they don’t want to walk.”
The parking garage is slated to be complete by late August 2014. The garage will include five stories and 829 parking spots, making up for the parking loss in the spring, summer and early fall by just over 200 spaces.
The construction project will also shut down Hill Drive, which runs from Coliseum Drive down between the stadium and the Turner Center. The road closure will take place over spring break 2014 and continue through late August of next fall semester.
In last week’s meeting, Astill and Ron Biggs, general manager of Oxford Transit Management, discussed plans to reroute the gold bus line during Hill Drive’s closure. With this change, the shuttle service could drop riders off in the center of campus, directly in front of the Lyceum. Astill and Biggs hope this adjustment would encourage more students to take advantage of the bus system.
Astill also suggested adding a third bus to the route in order to maintain ride times of five to seven minutes.
While Astill spoke of a growing reliance on the O.U.T. bus system and shuttle service, he touched on another parking challenge: The university has recently approved the development of new sorority houses on campus directly east of Stockard Hall and Martin Hall.
“We may be breaking ground as early as this spring on Rebel Drive,” he said.
The new sorority houses will add an estimated 160 vehicles to campus and cost the university 50 parking spaces per house.
“I’m excited that another sorority house will be built, but the faculty, students and their cars have outgrown this campus,” said Elizabeth Sales, senior studio art major.
The Paris-Yates Chapel parking lot, Magnolia Drive and Dormitory Row West are also future building areas that will affect the university’s parking, according to Astill.
“We’re going to be leaning heavily on the shuttle system in a few years to absorb a lot of this,” he said.
Astill announced in October that he would be departing from Ole Miss Nov. 15. Buster Clark will serve as interim director of Parking and Transportation while the department continues to conduct a national search for a new director.
– Mara Joffe