University should improve bridge safety

It is the University’s obligation to provide safety for our student body. Security fencing is one way to accomplish this.

Safety should be one of the University’s, parents’ and students’ foremost concerns. Granted there are other important things like classes, working and of course, lifting weights at the recreation center, but safety should be something students can expect to receive from a school they pay so much to attend.

When I initially took a tour of the campus as a junior in high school, I was quick to notice just how short the guard rails are on the Washington Avenue Bridge overlooking the Mississippi River.

I might be slightly afraid of heights, but it doesn’t take an engineer to figure out that falling 110 feet into a river would hurt, if not be the last thing that person ever did. Even the professional cliff jumpers that ESPN Classic throws on at one in the morning could not handle that height.

Security fencing on the Washington Avenue Bridge walkway would provide a comfort to many parents and students, and with planning and budgeting, it is a feasible goal.

Earlier this year when Luke Homan, my high school’s best basketball player and all-around great guy, drowned in the Mississippi River while attending the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, it got me thinking about the height of the rails on our bridge. He was the eighth La Crosse student in nine years to fall into the Mississippi River and drown after a night of partying.

With no guard rails or security fencing running along that section of the Mississippi River, Luke and the students before him were unaware of the impending danger.

At the University, the guard rails on the Washington Avenue Bridge walkway just aren’t high enough to prevent someone (drunk or sober) who leans too far over from falling. It is also a suicide hot spot, which tarnishes the University’s name.

The day I made my presentation to the student public safety committee, one of the committee members said the weekend before he stopped some students from coming dangerously close to the rail after a night of partying. He also halted a suicide attempt.

It is the University’s obligation to provide safety for our student body. The student safety committee on campus is really a good thing with lots of great leadership and an open ear to student concerns like mine. Ultimately, this student committee presented my recommendation to the MSA Facilities, Housing and Transit Committee and they decided not to pursue this issue any further as they didn’t see it as an appropriate expenditure at this time.

The University police do recognize the bridge as a concern, and they are thinking about security cameras. However, that would not prevent a fall, just document it.

The new security fencing I am proposing would cost approximately $180,000 with installation included. The Minneapolis area is blessed with many Fortune 500 companies, and I would think finding a corporate partner would be feasible. In exchange for splitting some of the costs, naming rights to the bridge could be awarded.

The Washington Avenue Bridge walkway could be named “The Target Skywalk” if Target Corporation would be a sponsor or something of that nature in association with the sponsor. This security fence would prevent accidents and make suicide attempts a mere improbability because the fence curls back into the bridge for 2 feet when the fence reaches a height of 10 feet.

A fence could limit the number of guards that are needed to stand out in the cold at night patrolling student safety and would protect the excellent reputation that is associated with the University. With a sponsor to reduce the costs and maintenance of the fence, it would add to the University, not take away from it.

The idea is still in its infant stage because the support level is still small, but with more students behind the issue, we can make the school safer and prevent worrisome walks between the East Bank and West Bank.

Brad Bogard is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]