The University of Southern Mississippi plans to begin constructing new parking lots for student use and will implement a mass transit system within the next 12 to 24 months in an effort to reduce vehicle- pedestrian interaction.
“Construction is set to begin on the paving, lighting and landscaping on a 135-space lot on 35th Avenue to be followed by similar work on a 100-space lot on 34th Avenue,” said USM Director of Parking Management Lucy Bowens.
The proceeds from the sale of the university-owned property across from the Jr. Food Mart convenience store on Hardy street will fund the projects.
Vice President for Finance and Administration Douglas Vinzant said the property was sold based on the average of two appraisals for $2.71 million, effective Aug. 25.
“In keeping with state law and board policy, the sale was approved by the state legislature, the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration and the IHL Board of Trustees,” Vinzant said. “The proceeds were deposited into the university’s parking auxiliary enterprise fund and will support three upcoming parking projects.”
According to Vinzant, the 35th Avenue lot will cost $879,000, the 34th Avenue lot will cost $690,000 and the Ross Boulevard renovations – paving of the lot, addition of lighting and addition of emergency phones – will cost $1.3 million.
Vinzant said the construction of the 34th and 35th Avenue lot projects will begin during the 2016 fall semester.
“The lot on 35th will happen first, the second will be the 100-space lot on 34th Avenue and the third project will be the Ross Boulevard lot,” Vinzant said. “The 35th and 34th Avenue lots will take about 75 days to complete – both of these will be finished around Jan. 1 or the beginning of February.”
The proceeds will also support improvements in lighting, parking surfaces, safety phones and handicap- access similar to the improvements made on the lot south of the Liberal Arts Building on 31st Street.
“It’s more than just parking,” Vinzant said. “It’s really about trying to provide safe, efficient parking for students and faculty.”
“In addition to the improvements [noted], the university hopes to make the same improvements to the Montague lot across from Asbury Hall and to the Hillcrest lot if the funding is approved by the state for these projects,” Vinzant said.
As of noon Aug. 31, USM’s Department of Parking Management has issued 4,459 student parking permits.
According to Vinzant, the total amount of revenue from the 4,459 student permits issued is approximately $659,979. Of the 4,459 student permits, 3,742 students paid $162 for parking permits and 717 paid for temporary permits at $75.
Bowens said Parking Management uses the funds from the permits for parking improvements such as signage; painting of crosswalks, curbs, striping and parking areas; and accessible sidewalks and entries for individuals with physical disabilities and parking locales, according to Bowens.
“Student have access to 5,943 parking spaces designated for student use,” Bowens said. “No, we do not have enough convenient parking, but we do have parking available to students.”
Vinzant said the conversation for a mass transit system has already started.
“[Mass transit is] absolutely a part we are going to do,” Vinzant said. “I think it’s fair to say we did not have a long- term plan. A lot of growing pains we are experiencing now, other universities have already addressed.”
Vinzant said the university is trying to develop an integrated parking and transit operating plan for the university.
Specific routes and pick-up and drop- off locations have not been determined, but the university anticipates those services will be provided within the next 12 to 24 months at the Hattiesburg and Gulf Park campuses, according to Vinzant.
“I’ve been at places where buses, bicycles and transit were already a large part [of campus transportation]. Here, the City of Hattiesburg has mass transit, and we want to work with them to develop it.”
Institutions such as the University of Mississippi have implemented mass transit systems and seen success in the reduction of over-crowded parking on campus. Director of Parking and Transportation for the University of Mississippi Mike Harris said the transit system has been a tremendous help.
“We offer a reduced rate permit to our park-’n’-ride lots, and we currently have 1,983 sold,” he said. “With the buses running every five to seven minutes, it is a convenient way to get to park and get to campus.”
Vinzant said the challenge of effective and safe parking is not unique to USM.
Harris said Parking Management receives complaints about parking as well, though they limit the amount of permits distributed.
“We limit the number of permits available on campus and once those are sold, the park-’n’-ride is used,” Harris said. “Year to date we have sold 13,421 student permits – including residential and commuter. We have [more than] 20,000 students so about 67 percent of our students have purchased permits at this time.”
Vinzant said one of the challenges that schools often face is the current generation of students may not benefit from improvements.
“It’s just the nature of the way universities evolve,” Vinzant said. “I would have loved to finish these projects a year ago, but we can’t make the improvements until we have the money in hand to pay for them.”