The new Utah Valley University Pedestrian Bridge is now fully open and has already become the favorite route from UTA’s Orem Frontrunner Station, and UVU’s West Campus, to its main campus across busy Interstate 15.
Those who walk, bike and ride scooters across the bridge, which is the length of three football fields, may marvel at the ease of use and quality of Utah’s longest pedestrian bridge without realizing that it took more than years to build — it took decades.
In 1993, Orem’s population was between its 1990 mark of 67,561 and that in 2000 of 84,324. Utah Valley Community College had recently transitioned to Utah Valley State College.
The institution had purchased 25 acres of land on the west side of I-15. The administration was investing in more than dirt, it had set is stakes on a dream. Expansion of the campus was part of the long-term vision, and so was the path that would connect east and west.
“We were looking at how we would best be able to utilize that property,” said Val Peterson, UVU’s current vice president of finance and administration.
That search turned into a long but not-so-winding road, as it took 27 years from the vision of a pedestrian bridge to its culmination in 2021. It has been the perfect example of Wolverine grit.
With subsequent high-density housing constructed in the area, the Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Transit Authority, and Orem City looked at creating a transit-oriented development in the area. UTA purchased eight of the school’s 25 acres for its intermodal center. New campus buildings were also constructed on the west side of the freeway.
“We did a study on how we could link the east and west campuses,” Peterson said.
They looked at numerous possibilities, including a walkway overpass, gondola, and monorail, he said the latter two especially popular suggestions.
Initial analysis, however, showed the gondola and monorail would be too costly to operate and maintain. It also revealed the importance of having the capability of utilizing a vehicle, such as a golf cart, in the case of an emergency.
When UDOT built the single-point urban interchange, safety was not as great a concern because far fewer people were using it.
“Now we have thousands of students living on the west side of the freeway,” Peterson said. “The interchange is not safe for pedestrians. We have tried to make it better. As we moved programs to the west campus, more students looked for a connection.”
It took grit, determination, a lot of time — and a lot of requests to get approval for the bridge.
“It made sense that we would build a pedestrian bridge,” Peterson said. “In 2016, we made a funding request to the legislature. That one was funded to create a link and solve the last-mile issue in transit. We went to work with planning and getting bids.”
Students are not the only ones who will use the bridge and the mass transit it connects. It also links the community with sporting events, concerts, and expositions at the UCCU Center; others attend arts events at the Noorda Center for the Performing Arts.
“Any of those people can take mass transit,” Peterson said. “They can ride FrontRunner down to campus and attend the symphony. They don’t have to worry about schedules or times. It is safe, allows time to walk across the bridge, and have access.”
“It is great knowing that we have worked together,” Peterson continued. “It wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for everybody coming together to solve a problem.”
And, it took a lot of “everybodys,” including the Utah Department of Transportation, the Utah Transit Authority, Orem City, and the Mountainland Association of Governments. It also took the unfailing support of four presidents of UVU.
The effort started when the school was Utah Technical College, then Utah Valley Community College, Utah Valley State College, and Utah Valley University, which it has been for a little over a decade.
“As the west side of the campus grows and becomes more integrated to the east side, the need rose,” he said. “We needed to do that in a safe manner for them.”
“It links what we want to have happen at Utah Valley University,” Peterson said. “We want the community here. It will address the needs of the community and be a bridge for people to advance dreams and educational goals.”
“It took 27 years, and it shows vision, commitment, continuing to develop UVU to meet the needs of the students and the public at large,” Peterson said. “To be able to say 27 years ago that this would come to fruition, it is amazing,” he said. “We are meeting the needs of the state of Utah and Utah County.”