In hopes of heading off some of the problems before they happen, campus and city officials are working on plans to expedite the traffic flow after Auburn's seven home games. However, they predict with the bridge construction project at the intersection of I-85 and South College Street/U.S. 29, the traffic flow on that main artery into campus will be congested. Also, driving around campus will be more difficult with construction projects taking place there.
John Hachtel, who is an assistant vice president at AU and the new chairman of the gameday committee, says that the committee's focus will be on making changes that will take place following the 2004 season because plans are already in place for the current season. He says that Auburn fans can email the committee at email@example.com or write Gameday Committee, Samford Hall, Auburn University, AL 368949.
"Anyone who cares enough to write to us about gameday parking, or tailgating or traffic or contact us through email, we're saving those addresses," Hachtel says. "At the conclusion of the season we're going to send an email out to all of the people who have taken the time to express opinions and invite them to a meeting of the committee.
"What we're going to do is hold it in a room that's large enough to accommodate everyone, although I don't know if there is a room that is large enough to accommodate all of those who have written to us, but I don't think everyone will come. We are going to throw it open for discussion and we are going to say, ‘What was good about your experience on gameday last year in the recently concluded season and what didn't work? What did you find problematic--from bathrooms, to food, to traffic getting out of town? What would you like to see for next year, realizing that there are always going to be rules?'
"I think the no RV zone on the core of the campus is probably something that will never change at this point, but beyond that what would you like to see? Are there things we could do better? I think for the first time we are actually going to go to the people who use the services that we offer and who we host for gameday to ask them what it is that they'd like to see happen. That is the first thing that we're going to do differently. Listen to people."
Tailgaters will not be able to park their cars along Wire Road next to the tennis courts due to new bollards put in place earlier this year.
The committee chairman says that he understands that Auburn alumni and fans have strong opinions on matters concerning the university and the gameday experience for football. "There is no question that I have never been at an institution where people feel a sense of loyalty like at Auburn," Hachtel says. "It is beyond anything I've ever seen. Maybe the Marine Corps is the only other one with that type of loyalty.
"We are going to listen to folks," Hachtel adds. "We won't be able to implement every suggestion. There may be some suggestions that just won't be appropriate because of things we just can't do, but we will listen. We are going to take that information and weigh it, and look at ways to do gameday better.
"The second thing we are going to do, and this is a commitment I made to the president (Ed Richardson) when he talked to me about taking this position on the chair, at the conclusion of the season we are going to look at, as a committee, every physical barrier that has been constructed on the campus the last three years. We are going to evaluate it, we are going to try to determine what the original intent was to put that barrier there. We are going to try to decide whether that intent is still something we need to have. We are going to try to decide whether that barrier is doing the job it was suppose to do. If in the event we find in some cases the need for that barrier no longer exists, then we're going to take it down.
"It is my goal, and I think the committee's goal, that we have gone as far as we can go, and possibly a little farther, in terms of restricting parking on the campus," Hachtel notes. "It's time for us to evaluate the effectiveness of what we have done and respond appropriately. If posts and chains are in places they shouldn't be, then move it back, take it down, something. Find a way to open up a little bit more space on the campus. One of the things we're hearing a lot from the city is that the more we restrict people on campus, the more we're driving people out into city neighborhoods."
There is heavy construction at the corner of Thach Avenue and Duncan Drive that causes many visitors to campus to take detours to get one side of the campus to the other.
Auburn officials say they plan to do a study on traffic flow during the 2004 football season. "Weather permitting at the LSU game, we're going to do a series of aerial photographs," Hachtel says. "We are very concerned with the close of Thach Avenue (on campus north of the stadium) and with exit 51 being the way it is, that egress from postgame is going to be very, very difficult so we have looked at some alternatives. We have worked with the city extensively to find some solutions, and we're almost ready to put those up on the website--suggested paths for egress. (auburn.edu.gameday/)
"Some of them seem to be a little bit longer than usual, but you'll probably save an awful lot of time by using them," Hachtel predicts. "Thach will be one way out to Dean (Road). Those are the kind of things we will be doing.
"We're also going to look at driving traffic that needs to go to the interstate to either Wire Road and out, or up to exits 57 and 58. Even people who need to go to Montgomery, if you're on the north side of campus, there's nothing wrong with going out Glenn (Avenue) to Frederick (Road) and then exit 57 comes down and you can get on the interstate and head south. Of course, there might be a bottleneck because of exit 51, but at least you're on the interstate and moving at that point, but those are the kinds of things we're looking at as alternatives."
Many Auburn alumni and fans have made it clear that some of the recent parking and traffic changes have not been well received. Hachtel, who recently took over as committee chair from Dr. Christine Curtis, says he realizes that. "I think it's very important that the gameday committee understands, and I think this committee does understand, that the people that come here are the university's guests. One of the things you try to do for your guests is try to make them feel comfortable and give them a sense that they can enjoy themselves. I don't think we have always communicated that very well.
"I think we need to communicate better what we're going to be doing, through the website, through this, through what I consider to be a significant change in attitude about how we deal with the suggestions that we get from fans and tailgaters and RVers. I think we can create a better atmosphere for gameday so that's generally where I'd like to take the committee.
"Now, of course, the devil is in the details and there's a lot more details and somebody's ox is going to get gored. Somebody who has parked in a particular place for years and years and years is going to have to find another place to go simply because now there is a building there. We have a tremendous amount of construction on the campus at this time. I think that what we've tried to do is find alternatives for people. Again, we're at a point where much of what is going to happen this year is set in stone, but what we're going to be doing is listening to folks and trying to bring those suggestions back and find a way to move that better."
Jim Jackson of the Auburn University Relations staff notes that he and other AU officials have talked to a large number of people who have questions about parking for the upcoming season. "To me, there are three different areas that are going to be entirely new this year," Jackson says. "One is the new construction down by Drake, the (old) student health center. I've had some people call and they used to get back there behind textile engineering and Dunstan. That area is gone because the new transportation center that is going to be built there. So that's one. People come into town and look at it and they want to know, ‘Well how are we going to do that now?'"
There is a major construction project going on at the site of the old the Drake Medical Clinic on Magnolia Drive.
Jackson says that AU is suggesting displaced tailgaters from that area move to the hayfield areas at the intersection of Donahue Drive and Lem Morrison. He says that fans accustomed to tailgating and/or parking on Thach near the stadium, which is closed for a construction project, should consider the hayfields and the same is the case for people who are displaced by the construction along Lem Morrison for the new health center and forestry buildings that will not be finished until after this football season.
"It all gets back to, ‘Well, where can I go?' and I always tell them ‘the hayfield lots,' especially if it's an RV," Jackson says. "It's free and it opens early. Sometimes that's the best solution for them. It's just a hit and miss call about the congestion, where do I park, how do I get in."
Fans parking in that lot will have free shuttle service to campus on Thursday, Friday and Saturday during a football game week. There will also be free shuttle services to campus on Saturdays from Colonial University Mall in Auburn and Tigertown shopping center in Opelika at I-85 exit 58.
Mike Clardy of University Relations says the questions he has received on the changes in parking and traffic regulations are focused on these areas: "We are being asked, ‘Why are you doing it? What's the need for this? We have been doing this way for 30 years or 40 years, why are you doing it now?' What we try to stress is that it comes down to a safety issue because we want to keep the sidewalks protected. We have got to keep the sidewalks clear."
Clardy says that it is dangerous for fans to have to walk on busy streets with lots of traffic because the sidewalks are blocked by cars. "We made a commitment at the beginning of last year to keep every sidewalk clear," he says. "There were a few that didn't get cleared last year that we've cleared this year. That's the folks at Mary Martin Hall that used to park on the sidewalk behind Martin Hall we have cleared this year. And that's something that we hear from families a lot--‘thank you so much for doing this. My kids don't have to walk out in the street. My dad who's in a wheelchair doesn't have to be pushed out into the street with traffic going' so there are some positives.
"The Haley Center concourse is an area off of Thach where a lot of people used to park, but now it's going to be pedestrian only," Clardy adds. "I think that's going to wind up being a pretty good thing. We'll have a tailgating barbecue area with food for sale. I think the people are going to like that aspect of it."
Hachtel says he is looking forward to seeing what type of suggestions the committee receives. He notes that he has seen some areas that are candidates to be re-opened for tailgating.
"We'll look at everything," he says. "Those are the kind of things we need to review. We need to look at why bollards were put up in a particular area. Jim and Mike and I have noticed as we drive around campus to go to various meetings that in some areas the idea is to protect the building--the academic building. Yet the post and chain is all the way out on the sidewalk, leaving an expanse of 30 feet of lawn that could be used for tailgating. Now, I don't know if in particular cases there isn't a reason for the fact that it's out there, but as a committee we need to know and make adjustments appropriate to what it is we are trying to protect. That is the kind of thing we need to hear from people. ‘We don't understand why we can't park here?' We may have a good reason for it.' If we don't, I don't see any harm in folks parking there."
Auburn opens the season with a home game at Jordan-Hare Stadium that kicks off at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 4th. Two weeks later the Tigers play their first SEC home game of the season and that is expected to attract a packed house of fans to Jordan-Hare Stadium when the defending national champions from LSU visit.
To help fans who are walking have easier access into and out of the stadium, a change is scheduled this year on Roosevelt Drive, Hachtel says. "Last year Roosevelt was closed with the exception of a very, very narrow pedestrian area. Two hours prior to game time and two hours after game time, Roosevelt is going to be open for pedestrian traffic. We think that will help alleviate some of the congestion along the sidewalks and things like that."
Hachtel suggests fans avoid I-85's exit 51 on gamedays, an area that is often congested on non-football days. He notes that if fans plan on tailgating on the east side of the stadium, they should consider a strategy to approach their parking spot from the east side of campus and leave to the east after the game. He says the same approach makes sense for fans planning to tailgate on the south, west and north sides of the stadium so they can avoid trying to navigate against the flow of heavy postgame traffic.
There is heavy construction in the parking lot of the cooled water plant on Duncan Drive, which is directly behind Plainsman Park.
Another option is to stay on campus longer after the games until the traffic clears. With all of the construction on and near campus, predictions are for heavier than normal traffic, but it is difficult to predict how much more of an issue it will be this year, AU officials point out.
Jackson and Hachtel note that university and city of Auburn officials have been discussing the traffic issue in detail and are making plans to keep cars moving by making roads leaving the campus one-way for two hours after each game. Also planned are new large road signs that will help fans find the best routes out of town.
Jackson says the recent merging of the campus police force into the city's police department should help with the traffic flow. "I think that coordination after the game will be much better," he says. "That is my hope."
Hachtel says he is hopeful the weather will be nice for the LSU at Auburn football weekend when the university has scheduled aerial photographs before, during and after the game to obtain detailed information on parking and traffic issues. "We are going to be looking at that very carefully to plan for next year," he says.
More details on tailgating, parking and traffic are on the link: