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February 23, 2001

Parking decisions loom as reserve fund builds

by Anne Krapfl
Sixteen months from now, the Iowa State parking division should have $1 million in seed money for some significant concrete and asphalt projects. The university's Transportation Advisory Council (TAC) is recommending a 4 percent inflationary adjustment for campus parking permits for the year that begins July 1. That size increase still should allow the parking division to set aside, for the fifth and last year, about $200,000 in a reserve fund.

What that $1 million will help pay for is up to the Iowa State community, according to Doug Houghton, manager of the parking division in the department of public safety. Those who park cars will make choices by the permit fees they're willing to pay. The options he sees are new lots to support new buildings, replacing or repairing existing lots more frequently than now can be done, and parking ramps. Long-term planning for how to use that money will begin next year.

While Iowa State students and employees like the convenience of a ramp, "our people haven't indicated a willingness yet to pay higher fees," Houghton said, "and we don't have the fee structure now to support ramps."

Ramps are expensive to build, requiring a lot of cash up front, or hefty user fees once they're in use. While a parking lot stall costs about $2,000 to build, a single stall in a ramp probably runs in the $10,000-12,000 range. The ramp connected to the Memorial Union has 640 stalls; a relatively small ramp by today's standards, Houghton said. A large ramp holds several thousand vehicles.

Houghton said heavy use during just the 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. "school day" wouldn't provide enough revenue to pay for a ramp.

"Large ramps have to be near an all-hours facility [such as a hospital or casino, in which people are coming and going most of the time]. Otherwise, they need to be subsidized," he said.

However, a doable alternative for Iowa State would be a single-level deck added to an existing lot. Houghton said the current fee structure could support a deck.

"It gets us a hundred or so additional stalls, so it doesn't solve any long-term problems," he said.

But he estimated that $1 million to $1.5 million in a savings fund would be enough to build a deck somewhere on campus.

"I believe we will build something in the next few years," Houghton said. "What and where will depend on the Iowa State community and on engineering studies."

Where's the need?
In a quick review of campus, Houghton said the west side of campus is 30 to 40 stalls short of what is needed and completing Hoover Hall will exacerbate that. The east side of campus doesn't have a problem now, but the planned business building on the Osborn Cottage site is expected to create a problem within several years. The north side of campus also has no shortage of stalls now, but new building plans that begin this summer will create a shortage within five to eight years, he said.

And while three smaller ramps on three sides of campus might seem like a solution, the reality is that three small ramps are more expensive than one large one. Economies of scale apply to parking ramps, Houghton said.

Two unknown but potentially helpful variables in Iowa State's parking equation are federal dollars that might help construct a ramp and a Government of the Student Body proposal to let students, faculty and staff ride CyRide buses -- all routes in town -- for free. A $9 increase in student fees each semester, with a $4.50/student payment from the university, could make this possible. The GSB proposal will be on the student ballot March 6-7.

"If it happens, that could be a wonderful plan," Houghton said. "It would have a very positive impact on parking at Iowa State by reducing student demand for parking spots."

Student needs actually are the biggest parking problem, according to Houghton. He said residence officials are trying to weave parking solutions into their master plan for updating the residence system.

Another proposal
This winter TAC members proposed and eventually discarded a plan that would have brought in more for the parking reserve fund.

FY2001 is the first year Iowa State has taken advantage of a federal tax law that allows parking fees to be deducted pre-tax from payroll checks. Most employees aren't aware of this change, but for all, it has meant a noticeable tax savings.

For example, employees in the 15 percent tax bracket saved $16.33 on a $57 general permit and $81.65 on a $285 reserved permit. Employees in the 28 percent tax bracket saved $23.74 and $118.70 in taxes, respectively, on the two permits.

The proposal was to raise permit fees by approximately these tax savings amounts, bringing out-of-pocket costs closer to last year's fees.

At a February meeting, TAC members voiced concern about collecting more money simply for the sake of collecting money.

"Until we have a plan in mind, it's difficult to support that concept," said John Lamont, electrical and computer engineering. "It's hard to get people to 'up the ante' until there's something concrete to support."

TAC's 4 percent recommendation goes to vice president for business and finance Warren Madden and, if he concurs, to the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, next month for its approval.

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