OREM — For nearly three years, Oumar Traore has taken the long way around the I-15 freeway to get to class at Utah Valley University.
A junior majoring in information technology who lives just west of campus, his alternatives are to walk along a frontage road then proceed along heavily traveled University Parkway in Orem, or wait for sparsely scheduled buses, or to brave speeding traffic by dashing across the freeway to get to the other side.
Soon that commuting nightmare will be a thing of the past. On Thursday, the ribbon was cut on a new pedestrian bridge that will make getting to the main campus east of the freeway a whole lot easier and much faster, too.
"(When) taking the bus, sometimes there's traffic and it takes a lot of time and you also miss some class," he explained. You're always taught to get up early, like an extra 30 minutes. So, I'm basically saving 30 to 45 minutes."
He said for so long, getting to and from school was not only time-consuming, but also a safety hazard.
"That was really a problem because we had to walk down where I-15 is and that was very concerning, so you always have to be very careful," Traore said. "But with a bridge, you can just walk, you don't have to wait for the bus and just go straight to your class."
Similarly, UVU junior Jade Haley said getting to class could be a hassle even when driving because parking is so hard to find. Frequently, she parked on the west side of the freeway then made her way across using one of the three options available to her. Now, her life will be much less stressful.
"I'm a commuter student. I actually come from Eagle Mountain across Utah Lake, so it's a little bit of a drive for me to get here," she explained. "Having the option of taking the FrontRunner (commuter rail) and just being able to cross the bridge and be on campus is going to be so great where I don't have to fight traffic anymore."
The new pedestrian bridge connects Utah Valley University with the Utah Transit Authority's FrontRunner Orem Central Station. The $30.7 million bridge was built through a partnership with UVU, UTA, the Utah Department of Transportation, along with the city of Orem and the state Legislature. The high-tech span measures more than three football fields at 1,000 feet long and 15 feet wide, making it the largest pedestrian bridge in Utah.
"This bridge is a one-of-a-kind triumph," Val Peterson, UVU vice president of finance and administration, said. "Its construction began with a question — how we can safely connect pedestrians on one side of our campus with the other — and the larger question of how to more easily connect the community with UVU? I believe we have done just that."
The bridge was built using 15,000 square feet of heated concrete that will melt snow and ice in the cold weather months. It also has a full-coverage roof to provide shelter from the elements, an elevator, and the walkway is lined with 125 lights and 18 security cameras for added safety.
Construction was aided by using locally sourced materials to make the finished product.
"One of the interesting things that I found was the girders. The steel underneath the bridge was manufactured at a plant right off of Geneva Road," said UDOT engineer David Gill. "We were able to go and tour that plant and see how they build those girders — the steel beams to construct the bridge. That was fascinating for me as an engineer."
UDOT said crews will continue putting the finishing touches on the bridge over the next few weeks, with an expected official opening in early February.
Serving as a vital connection over I-15 to the UVU campus, an average of more than 5,000 people are expected to traverse the bridge on a daily basis.
"I've been waiting for this bridge, it feels like forever, literally, since I arrived because I knew they had been approved," said UVU President Astrid Tuminez. "I have never found it very pleasant seeing the students cross University Parkway. I've always felt that it looked so hazardous and I didn't like it. I've been asking and asking when is the bridge going to be done? And it's finally here."
Besides its state-of-the-art functionality, Tuminez said the institution will use the bridge to help uplift students on their academic journey.
"We're going to be putting inspirational thoughts on this bridge and we're going to be changing these quotes that we put there," she said. "So when students walk across, you also plant positive thoughts about confidence and grit in their minds."
"There are so many things about the bridge, it's both functional and aesthetic," Tuminez said. "It gives a message to our students that they are worthy of first-class, safe, wonderful infrastructure."