“Build our bridge! Build our bridge!” was the chant of about 60 South Carolina State University students Wednesday afternoon as they marched from University Village Apartments to the college campus.

The students, most of them residents of the 500-student University Village, said there needs to be a pedestrian bridge over busy Chestnut Street linking the apartment complex with the university.

“We have tried to have the bridge built for the last four years,” said Christian Code, University Village outreach event coordinator. “We have gone to the DOT (S.C. Department of Transportation) and have gone to meetings and it just stays on their schedule and no action is done.”

The students crossed Chestnut Street and carried signs with messages like “Pedestrian is more than a word; it is a life” and “Bridging the Gap — from the community to the college.”

In October 2010, a S.C. State senior Teahara Peterson was struck and injured while crossing the street. There has been at least one fatality at the crossing.

Code said the bridge is greatly needed in light of the fact that there are 600 students living in University Village. He said there are also pedestrians from Campus Corner, which houses at least 500 students, and the New Brookland community.

“They are walking across the street during the day and it is very unsafe,” Code said. “A bridge would also help with traffic on game day.”

The project has been on the SCDOT Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for several years.

SCDOT Program Manager Michelle Shepherd said the project is a priority and that the department is working with a design consultant to develop plans for the bridge.

“We are right at the stage now of meeting with SCSU and suppliers to coordinate and make sure what the school wants is what we are going to provide,” Shepherd said. “That is the next step: to get all in one room to determine the type of bridge and the type of structure that will be installed. This will be a signature bridge for their campus.”

The right-of-way acquisition will begin in the spring of 2015.

Shepherd said the current proposal includes a prefabricated truss bridge.

“We are targeting late next year to let the project to construction,” Shepherd said. “The dates of completion are to be determined. The project is fully funded through construction.”

The estimated cost for the pedestrian bridge is $3.2 million. About $2.1 million will come from two federal earmarks, $950,000 from Orangeburg County’s capital project sales tax and $150,000 from the Orangeburg County Transportation Committee.

When completed, the bridge will be about 500 feet long, running over all five lanes of the road. Chestnut Street is considered one of the busiest roads in the Orangeburg area.

The proposed plan calls for the bridge to begin near Reed Street, a two-lane dirt road which runs into Chestnut Street, and end near the S.C. State tennis courts.

S.C. State junior Shavonia McNeil, a resident of University Village, said the walk across Chestnut is very hazardous.

“I see that USC (University of South Carolina) and Clemson have their bridges. I feel like we need a bridge too,” she said. “It is very hectic at times being that sometimes cars are going over 45 miles per hour.”

McNeil said on average she has to wait about three minutes at the light, making it hard to get to class on time.

Dr. Jessie E. Kinard, chairman of the SCSU Real Estate Foundation and the Orangeburg County Transportation Committee, said the need for a bridge has been discussed for six years to no avail.

“They keep putting it off,” Kinard said. “This is serious business. I am tired of this thing.”

Kinard said the accident involving Peterson was tragic and a negative for the university.

“It could have been my child,” he said.

Kinard said the intersection is even more dangerous since more and more students are engaged in texting and listening to music on headphones.

“They are not looking at the street. Why not let us go across rather than compete with the cars? It is time to listen to the young people,” he said.

S.C. State senior Laura McGuire says she has walked across the busy intersection for about three years.

“It has been crazy because you don’t know if the person is going to stop even if you are on a red light,” McGuire said. “I had one incident when a guy went through the red light when I walked through, so I had to hurry up and cross the street.”

S.C. State senior David Badillo, a resident of University Village for two years, said “There have been too many times when people have been walking across the street and more often than not motorists will actually run red lights and disregard pedestrians in the street because they want to get to work faster.

“It puts them at risk and it puts student welfare at danger. It also cuts down retainability because if people don’t feel safe during the school year, they are not likely to pay tuition to stay here.”

S.C. State Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Tamara Hughes commended the students’ efforts to raise awareness and garner support for the construction of this project.

“We stand with you to make sure the completion of this project comes quickly as not to endanger or put at risk students who pass this way daily in their effort to pursue their dreams of attending college,” she said.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.


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