Tunnels provide alternative

Jake Kapsner

University students caught in the cold grip of winter and dreary dearth of rain often head underground, or at least indoors.
After all, it’s logical that a University named for a burrowing rodent has a vast system of underground tunnels — called the Gopher Way.
Those words adorn some 600 signs near building access points around campus as part of a new system put in place this fall that maps indoor travel routes, including skyways.
Steve Sanders, a Project Manager with Parking and Transportation Services, said there’s always been demand for an extensive tunnel map.
His team began assembling bits and pieces of previously mapped campus routes last November. The sprawling indoor network that dots the East Bank, West Bank and St. Paul campuses became more user-friendly in February, when officials released pocket guides to the tunnel and skyway systems.
Prior to mapping, most people were unaware how far the fingers of the tunnel system reached, Sanders said, including himself.
A guiding design principle was creating a path to accomodate people with disabilities, he added. The maps indicate no-access road blocks with a circle around the letter “s.”
Making the indoor walkways more accessible has been a hot topic in recent years. University President Mark Yudof has expressed a desire to improve the links in the indoor walkway system, said Ray Jackson, senior civil engineer for Facilities Management.
“There are no plans in the works because it would take a ton of cash, a ton of dough,” said Tim Busse, communications specialist for Facilities Management.
Building tunnels is expensive fare because moving the numerous utilities skyrockets the expense, Jackson explained.
The tunnels weren’t originally designed for pedestrian travel, he said, but that’s what they’ve become.
Bruce Troupe, University Police Captain, said campus tunnels are very safe, but encourages safety awareness nonetheless.
“I think it’s a mindset. Whether they’re on campus or in the city, students should be mindful of where they are — it just makes good sense,” he said.
Sanders noted the new map system only designates main routes — not the only way for Golden Gophers to burrow between classes.
“People might be able to pick a better route for themselves,” he said. “I think once people get experience they can find their own way.”
Sound college advice.