Campus Crunch : Construction, Parking Jam Rule as UCI Opens

Times Staff Writer

UC Irvine student Jeff Turpin struck a pose Monday that is likely to become all too familiar on campus in coming weeks: he was lodged behind the wheel of his car in traffic, unable to find a parking space.

Turpin and nearly 16,000 other students converged on the Irvine campus to face the traditional hassles of the first day of classes, plus new ones caused by construction projects. And those projects will mean traffic tie-ups and long hikes from parking lots to classes for months to come, university officials said.

As it turned out, Turpin was lucky. He was able to glide into a space being vacated in a parking lot steps away from the Administration Building. But it took him nearly 20 minutes to find the choice location, and if he had been in a hurry to get to classes, he would have been late, he admitted.

"I just sort of hung around this lot like a vulture because I didn't really have anything pressing on campus," the 19-year-old sociology major said. "It was either that or park five miles way. I'm not sure what I'll do from now on. Maybe my friends and I will take turns driving in."

Seven major construction projects are under way on campus, with three more likely to begin in coming weeks, campus officials said. Overall, the university plans to spend more than $300 million on new buildings during the next few years.

Campus officials say traffic has not gotten out of hand so far, but they admit that the worst probably is yet to come as more parking spaces are displaced by construction. There are about 8,600 parking spaces on campus, but nearly 500 have been lost to construction and another 800 will be displaced in coming months, officials said.

"I think the traffic situation will be a challenge throughout the year," said Mike Delo, UCI's director of parking and transportation services. "We were most concerned that the construction traffic--heavy equipment and the like--would conflict and cause problems with the back-to-school traffic. But it's been fairly smooth so far. Luckily, the hours construction workers are on the job are staggered so that everybody just misses each other."

To alleviate problems, officials have installed traffic monitors at major intersections during peak hours, UCI spokeswoman Colleen Bentley-Adler said. And shuttle buses run from outlying parking lots to the main campus.

Adding to the confusion, many services formerly available in University Center, including the student bookstore, have been relocated while the facility is being enlarged..

Maureen Crayton, marketing manager at the bookstore--now located at the University Tower, across Campus Drive--said a shuttle service was established from the new location to the campus just so students would not have to lug newly bought books a quarter of a mile or more.

"The beginning of the quarter is always hectic, but there is a lot more going on this semester because of the construction projects," Crayton said.

Alice Barker, a 19-year-old sophomore and psychology major, said many students feel inconvenienced by the construction.

"There are a lot of things in the air, flying by--sometimes you don't know what it is--and big trucks all over the place," Barker said.

But Kathy Pogge, 22, a senior English major, said she and most of her friends are more concerned about everyday problems, such as getting the classes they had hoped for.

Jody Bishop, 19, a sophomore from Los Angeles agreed. He got only two of the classes he wanted and will have to go on a waiting list for the others.

And he is still looking for a place to live.

"I've been staying with friends and commuting from Los Angeles, so it's critical that I find someplace pretty quickly," Bishop said. "I think most students are pretty much concerned with the basics right now--getting their classes together, finding an apartment, lining up parties. All the usual."

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