Some off-campus students are walking the extra mile or so to get to school while others are sneaking across a bridge closed for safety reasons, ignoring pleas by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to use a special shuttle.
Earlier this year, the city-parish blocked off a short bridge over a drainage canal linking University Place Apartments to the UL-Lafayette campus.
“I had walked to class in the morning and then coming home I was just stunned to see a fence over the bridge,” said Ian Beatty, a sophomore who lives at UPA.
The small bridge, which connects the main UL-Lafayette campus to the student-heavy neighborhood to its southwest, has been there for decades but was closed when city-parish government fenced off the unstable structure.
“We just recently acquired documents that showed we were the owners of the bridge,” said Mitchell Wyble, a public works engineer with city-parish government. “We previously thought we were not the owners. We thought it was a private development or that it belonged to UL.”
City-parish government closed the bridge soon after inspectors determined the pilings supporting the bridge are unsound, he said.
Workers first put up barricades, but they built the fence after the city received complaints from UL-Lafayette officials that students were still walking across the bridge.
With the bridge closed, the path students on foot are forced to take, down Oak Crest Drive and along Johnston Street, adds almost mile or more depending on where they’re headed.
Some students squeeze through a hole that has been cut at least twice into the fence.
Beatty said he’s been climbing through that hole rather than making a trek taking an extra 20 to 30 minutes to get to his classes.
The university is offering residents of UPA a shuttle service to campus, Bourgeois Hall and Cajun Field — a service Joey Pons, associate director of public safety at the university, is urging the students to utilize for their own safety.
Sarah Scheitler, who lives on Oak Crest Drive, has seen a significant increase of pedestrian traffic walking toward Johnson Street from UPA, an increase that has begun to worry her.
“We’ve always had a lot of foot traffic from the apartments, but now they’re all forced to come down the few streets that actually connect to the apartments, to go to class and wherever else they’re going,” Scheitler said.
The streets, which have no sidewalks, are narrow, and the cars travel fast, she said.
“It’s really a safety issue for everyone involved,” Scheitler said. “I’m nervous when I’m driving at night that I won’t see someone walking, and I’m even nervous when I’m walking my dog that someone in a car is not going to see me.”
There is no planned timeline for the repairs because of a lack of funding to replace the bridge, a project estimated at $600,000.
“It is to remain closed indefinitely until funding or somebody else decides they’re going to undertake the removal and replacement,” Wyble said.