Pedestrian tunnel, bridge next on list
For any returning student, the changes around Liberty University cannot be missed. The former Campus North has been renamed Green Hall. Almost all residential classes have been moved to DeMoss Hall, which now occupies the fourth floor. The seminary has made a similar transition by moving to the Elmer L. Towns Religion Hall. New structures and signs are sprouting up all around campus. Next in the long list of changes is the creation of the long-awaited pedestrian tunnel from Liberty’s campus to Wards Road and a bridge for pedestrians to safely cross the busy street.
According to Liberty University President and Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., the plan for a pedestrian walkway over Wards Road has been discussed for several years. When the City of Lynchburg promised monetary support of approximately $1.3 million, the idea finally came off the table and into execution.
At first, the city created a plan for a crosswalk, but then Charles Spence, Liberty’s director of planning and construction, took the proposed budget and with it created a construction plan that would get pedestrians completely off of the road and would not stop traffic.
“The money that was going to be spent on a dangerous plan was then redirected to a safe plan,” Falwell said.
Liberty agreed to pay for any expenses that exceeded the $1.3 million dollars that the city had promised for the project.
Spence is now the primary overseer of both the tunnel and the bridge.
Falwell and Neal Askew, senior vice president of operations, said they contributed a lot of the success in getting the city to allocate funds for a bridge to Liberty’s student body, many of whom vote locally. According to Askew, the city has to honor the needs and wishes of its taxpayers and for many months out of the year, the city’s taxpayers consist of thousands of Liberty students.
“That’s what I want to keep stressing to students,” Falwell said. “Things like this happen only because they got involved, and things like this will only happen in the future if they stay involved.”
The primary purpose of both projects is safety. Currently, many students get to the stores and restaurants along Wards Road by walking through the parking lot of the Reber-Thomas Dining Hall, passing over the train tracks and then darting through traffic to cross the highway.
Soon this dangerous act will no longer be an option.
On Aug. 31, the construction crew will set the structure for a bridge that will span across Route 29, from Panera Bread to Sam’s Club.
According to Don Ash, manager at Panera Bread, they are simply waiting for the impending completion of the bridge and for the construction to be complete, although that has not negatively affected the business.
“The contractors have gone out of their way to not get in the way of the establishment,” Ash said, adding that they have “bent over backward” to avoid disruption.
It will take another two or three weeks after the structure is set to get the bridge completely finished and ready for use.
The tentative date for it to be usable is the end of September, according to Askew.
Spence said that, shortly following the opening of the bridge and tunnel, the city will build a fence in the median of Wards Road and the school will construct a fence along the railroad tracks.
This will force students to only use the pedestrian tunnel to get off campus to get to the shopping centers along Wards Road and the bridge to cross over the busy traffic on Route 29.
“They have either got to use that tunnel and bridge, or they’ve got to run through an intersection,” Falwell said.
Other than a slight increase in construction traffic on campus, such as trucks containing workers and materials, the tunnel construction will have little impact on the daily lives of students, according to Falwell and Askew.
Askew said that they are scheduling certain times for the construction to take place so that the slight increase of accompanying traffic will not disrupt the students.
Once the tunnel and bridge are complete, those, too, will change one of the most prominent venues that students will use to leave campus and access stores, shops and restaurants in the surrounding city.
Since going through the tunnel will be mandatory for students, Falwell and Askew said that Liberty would be implementing certain new mechanisms to ensure safety and monitoring for the students using that point of access.