By Errol Castens
OXFORD – When students return to the University of Mississippi from this week’s spring break, they’ll face intensified competition for parking spaces and traffic openings.
This week, construction on the 825-space parking garage next to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and preparations for construction of the adjoining basketball arena closed the west stadium lot for the duration of the project.
Part of Hill Drive near All-American Drive (Fraternity Row) is closed until this fall, when it will be straightened and reopened.
A commuter lot near Tad Smith Coliseum has been designated for faculty and staff until the completion of the parking garage. It will be reclassified as commuter parking at the start of the fall semester.
About 100 more commuter spaces in the construction zone will be closed to be used as space for materials offloaded during construction. Those spaces will be reopened when the basketball arena is completed, which is scheduled for early 2016.
The five-story parking garage, which is yet in the foundation stage, is scheduled to open in time for this year’s fall semester.
“It’s a very ambitious schedule,” said Mike Harris, the university’s new director of traffic and parking. “By the time school starts, it’s supposed to be open. They’re about to go to a 24/7 mode here.”
Ole Miss has had about 700 empty spaces on typical class days at its South Lot and Jackson Avenue Center Park-and-Ride locations, so more commuters can still be accommodated by parking at the outlying lots and riding the high-frequency bus loops into campus.
Expanded routes and more buses on Oxford-University Transit (OUT) student-dominated routes also may address the decline in on-campus parking.
“Alliance Bus Group has started on our six new buses. Hopefully we can get them by July,” said OUT manager Ron Biggs.
The Green Route, which primarily serves student housing developments, will expand this summer to at least one additional student complex and perhaps two.
“Faulkner Place will be the farthest point (on the route) on Old Taylor Road,” Biggs said. “It’s right across from The Mark, so once we go to Faulkner Place, The Mark is probably going to want us to come there, too.”