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Construction closes South College Drive on Western’s campus until March

Additional parking along the northbound side of the road will increase parking capacity by 131 spots

Signage and fencing close off access to South College Drive on the south campus of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. Access has been restricted since construction began on Oct. 24, 2022 and will be closed to most traffic during construction. // Photo courtesy of Briana Tuvey 



By Miles Tennant

South College Drive at the southern end of Western Washington University’s campus is getting a makeover. Its median, which runs the length of the road, is being removed in favor of 131 angled parking spaces on the northbound side. 

South College Drive’s two lanes will be brought together to form a standard two-lane road. The road’s northbound bike lane will remain, while its southbound bike lane will be removed,  according to the document included in the Western Today announcement informing campus members of the construction. 

Initial information released by Western Today said the road will be closed to bicycles and automobiles during construction, with the exception of those accessing parking lots 12G, 18R and Harrington Field. 

Jonathan Higgins, the director of University Communications, later added in an interview that the sidewalks will also be closed, meaning pedestrians who live south of Buchanan Towers have to find alternative routes onto campus. 

Construction began on Oct. 24 with the goal to finish the initial portion of the project by March 2023, said Project Manager Architect Sherrie Montgomery.

If weather is favorable, the road work could be done as early as January, with construction then continuing in late spring to finalize lines and plant vegetation, Montgomery said. 

Timing of the project was critical to fit with the university's larger-scale plan regarding construction of Kaiser-Borsari Hall, an electrical engineering and computer science building set to break ground in April 2023.

The plans for Kaiser-Borsari Hall show that 43 of the 139 parking spaces in lot 17G, located behind the Communications facility, would be covered by the new building.  

The South College Drive construction project along with a smaller project to build a parking lot on the Wade King Service Road are necessary to cover the parking displaced by the building, Higgins said. 

Additionally, the plans show that the Academic Instructional Center parking lot, located adjacent to lot 17G, will be reconfigured, increasing the parking from 17 to 20 spaces.

The locations of these projects all tie in to Western’s long-term infrastructure goals to move parking toward the perimeter of campus. This allows the core of campus to focus solely on academics and student services, Higgins said.

“Parking is always going to be a finite resource in our area,” Higgins said. “We would encourage students and community members to also consider walking, biking if they can and [using] public transportation.”

construction

The median along South College Drive is shown removed on Western Washington University’s campus in Bellingham, Wash., on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. Removing the median will make way for new parking spaces and a narrower 2-way road to campus. // Photo courtesy of Briana Tuvey

Not everyone is happy with the safety aspect of the plans they’ve seen. Some Western students who commute to campus via South College Drive are concerned that having parking spots directly on the road, rather than in a parking lot, could be hazardous. 

“Someone’s gonna get in a car accident pulling out of a parking spot,” said Juliana Smith, a third-year student who uses the road to commute to campus. 

“People already speed on that road, and getting rid of safety measures like a bike lane and more parking will be dangerous… it's already a hazardous road,” said Jillian Adams, another junior who uses the road to reach the C-lot at peak parking times. 

The design team has recognized these concerns, and steps are in place to mitigate the risk that angled parking could have. 

“It’s going to be something that we can address through speed limits or further signage,” Higgins said. 

One change that is expected to help mitigate the speed of traffic is the addition of a four-way stop at the intersection between South College Drive, the C-lot and the entrance to the 12G and 18R parking lots, Montgomery said. 

Montgomery also sees the removal of the median as a positive for safety. 

“When you narrow a road, people naturally slow down,” Montgomery said. 

As for cyclists, Montgomery said the downward slope of the hill going south would provide enough support to allow riders to get up to speed with traffic.

Another safety addition will be the installation of a pedestrian activated crosswalk light at the intersection of Bill McDonald Parkway and South College Drive, Higgins said. 

Funding for the project comes from Western’s capital projects budget with the total cost expected to be around $1.5 million, Higgins said. 

Work on the project could cause traffic difficulties through its completion in March; however, the addition of parking will likely be welcomed by members of campus once complete. Until then, those driving by Western’s campus can get used to construction crews and slower than normal traffic.

Miles Tennant (he/him) is currently a second year at Western. He is a pre-major in the News/Editorial Journalism path.


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