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Astill to Depart Ole Miss Amid Traffic Plan Controversy

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HottyToddy.com has learned from multiple sources that Isaac Astill, Ole Miss Director of Parking and Transportation, will be stepping down.

Astill will be accepting a position in Tooele County in Utah as a director of facilities.

Astill was hired in July 2012. He came to Oxford after various administrative positions at the University of Utah. Astill was brought to Ole Miss to oversee parking operations, alternative transportation options and on-campus shuttle services.

The traffic and parking situation at Ole Miss has become a point of contention in recent months as officials have struggled to cope with large football weekend crowds, new restrictive campus parking policies and frustrated Rebel fans.

Astill was a key planner when Ole Miss announced new policies this past summer affecting campus parking and football game-day changes.

For the 2013 season, on football-game Saturdays, fans are no longer allowed to drive on campus without a parking pass, unless using the 10-minute loading zone on University Avenue by the Grove. Parking passes get fans into all parking lots on campus that are not dedicated to dorm residents.

Most roads are restricted to one-way traffic leaving campus for one hour after the game to allow season ticket holders with parking passes to easily leave. Shuttle buses will still run from their designated locations to move fans to the seven free lots around town.

Astill studied and worked at the University of Utah before making the move to Mississippi in July 2012. He received his bachelor’s degree in business finance in 2008 and his master’s in public administration in 2011.

From January 2001 to June 2007, Astill served as a computer sciences supervisor. Until his move to Ole Miss, he served as the operations manager for special events, visitor parking and budget oversight at the University of Utah.

Mayor Pat Patterson conceded that parking and traffic flow has been a problem for the city and University, but maintained that Oxford and Ole Miss will continue to work together as partners to help improve traffic and parking issues during football games.

“The shuttle operations we’ve implemented off campus are working better every game,” Mayor Patterson said. “The timing of games and even the outcome will have a significant impact on people’s attitudes. Trying to facilitate 60,000 to 70,000 fans leaving the game at the same time is always going to require patience and time.”

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Patience has been in short supply as game attendees have expressed frustration with traffic jams, shuttle delays and long walks back to the car. “I thought the parking on campus couldn’t get any worse,” said senior accounting major Cameron Sweetwood. “Apparently it can.”

But Hottytoddy.com’s primary source on traffic and parking issues, Jimmy Allgood, Oxford’s Emergency and Game Day Operations Planner, says the process is working better. He added the City and University planners learned from their mistakes in recent weeks. “One of those mistakes was not having uniformed Oxford police instead of the university’s contracted security personnel directing traffic flow,” he said. “For the LSU game, we had OPD officers directing traffic and it was a thousand percent improvement.”

Allgood said he believes the University may have initially underestimated the number of people who would apply for game-day parking permits and the complication of accommodating tailgaters who celebrate at the Grove but don’t attend the game. He contends that the recent plan modifications have led to a smother process.

The general public has been slow to note improvement. In their replies to HottyToddy.com’s request for feedback, they vented in great numbers on the site’s Facebook page after the Texas A&M game. Following is a small sampling of the more than 200 Facebook comments posted by game attendees about their parking and traffic experience. While not a scientific survey, responses ran more than 90 percent negative.

• “The parking issue sure has put a damper on everything. I have season tickets but if parking doesn’t get better I may have to rethink buying season’s tickets again. No better atmosphere than last night at the game but afterwards was a nightmare.”

• “They should talk to Auburn. That was the best experience we’ve had so far.”

• “Had no problems at all. Got in Lot 10 and easily was out of lot and onto the Highway 6 in under 10-15 minutes.”

• “We got to the NWCC about 3:30 p.m. and had many places to choose from. Great tour busses were shuttling in and dropping off below Depot Drive. We left early so we didn’t experience the darkness but our situation was good.”

— Andy Knef, HottyToddy.com, Managing Editor — You can email Andy at andy.knef@hottytoddy.com

The following release from Ole Miss Communications was received by HottyToddy.com Oct. 24 at 4 p.m.

Promotion Takes Parking Director Back to Utah

Long-term plan instituted by Astill will continue to guide parking on campus

In just over a year, the University of Mississippi’s first parking and transportation director Isaac Astill helped Ole Miss take steps to improve parking on campus—including significant increases in the use of public transit systems by the UM community and a plan for a new parking garage set to break ground in November.

On Nov. 15, Astill will step down to return to his home state as director of facilities for Tooele County in Utah, an opportunity to reunite with his extended family. Astill came to UM after serving as operations manager for commuter services at the University of Utah.

UM officially opened a nationwide search today to fill his position.

“Isaac made great strides moving us to a pedestrian campus, and he did a tremendous job incorporating the transportation system and the OUT buses into the daily fabric of campus life,” said Clay Jones, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Human Resources and Contractual Services for UM. “This will have to continue as we move forward toward the master plan, which calls for the center of campus to be car-free and pedestrian friendly. We hate to see him go but understand that he’s been offered a significant career opportunity and a way to return to the part of the country he’s most familiar with.”

During his tenure at UM, Astill collected data and worked closely with the Parking and Transportation Committee, a group of faculty, staff and students, to gain information and create recommendations to improve some of the university’s biggest parking challenges. The committee’s work culminated in a three-year plan that became effective July 1.

The plan included a new online vehicle registration system to reduce wait times, as well as expanded hours for campus shuttles.

In September, the Oxford-University-Transit bus system saw record ridership of 120,000 rides, 96 percent of which were by members of the UM community. Astill said the new parking garage, to be located southwest of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, will add 829 parking stalls to campus and is expected to be ready for fall 2014.

As part of the data collection process, the parking committee studied parking policies at universities in the state, region and the SEC, which helped with decisions to replace decals with hangtags and to adjust pricing strategies.

“We found that we charged way below market rates for parking,” Astill said. “To operate appropriately and increase resources across campus, we needed to get at least to market rates.”

While new ideas could come from the new parking director, Jones said the University will continue along the general path led by Astill.

“Just a few years ago we had about 12,000 or 13,000 students and now we’ve got 18,000 on this campus,” Jones said. “We have to move toward mass transit and a pedestrian campus—it’s just got to happen.”

Astill will begin work with Tooele County on Nov. 18. He and his wife, Carina are looking forward to moving back home with their children, Rylee, Graycee and Cooper, to be near their families, but he said they will miss the many friendships formed at Ole Miss.

“I’ve grown tremendously since I’ve been here,” Astill said. “The administration has been incredibly supportive—I can’t say that enough. I’ll always be a fan of Ole Miss. It’s a great school, and Oxford is a great city.”

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