Tight Squeeze at Ut

UT students find parking to be a tight squeeze along 26th Street.

photograph by Jana Birchum

When Lamar Lentz leaves Round Top for his 75-mile commute to the University of Texas, he knows that the only parking spaces available for him - if he's lucky - will be in a remote lot near the UT baseball fields. Lentz holds a Class C parking permit, which means he and 10,000 other commuters must compete for 3,800 spaces in four Class C lots around campus.

While the length of Lentz's commute may be exceptional, his predicament is not. Those who actually try to find parking in the Class C lots are in for an ordeal. "The Class C permits aren't any good because there is never any parking," says student Lynn Ransom, who drives her car to campus several times a week.

And as the university continues its expansion program, more students are getting squeezed out of valuable parking spaces. Those spaces could become scarcer for Class C holders with the construction of a new soccer field on the eastern edge of campus eating up over 1,200 parking spaces. "When I first moved here five years ago, all of the area that is now the athletic field was all student parking," says Susan Richmond, an art history graduate student. "You would think that they would understand that more and more people have to drive to campus."

As there becomes less land available for surface parking, the UT Dept. of Parking and Transportation has launched a plan to replace those lost lots with parking garages. Along with existing UT garages at San Jacinto & 26th, San Antonio & 25th, and at Jester Center, a new structure opened this week at Manor and East Campus Drive, near Royal-Memorial Stadium. Construction on another will begin this year at 27th and University, on the north edge of campus.

Still, the addition of new parking structures is a moot point to many students who can't afford to pay the going rate of $440 for 12 months, or $195 per fall or spring semester, compared to $65 for a Class C permit. But that's part of the price of attending UT, says David Kapalko, UT's director of parking and transportation. "We are a downtown urban university, and we are now finally having some options [for parking], but [students] are going to have to pay more," he says. "We have built three garages in three years, and they cost a lot to build."

Indeed, construction costs have jumped over the years. The parking garage that opened this week cost $12.7 million, providing a little over 1,200 spaces, while the Jester Center garage cost $10.2 million for 1,550 spaces. Since UT is a state institution, the transportation department receives capital funds from construction bonds issued by the State of Texas, but that's debt that it must repay. And since the department is a self-financed entity, receiving no money from the university, its budget is solely funded through revenues from permits and traffic citations. "We pay those [bonds] off over 20 years, and that debt service is a large part of our budget," Kapalko says. "It's basically like a 20-year mortgage."

And sharing the debt load, of course, are the thousands who comprise the ever-growing population of commuting students. - Walter Cole

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