Alain Chaponniere, a senior at Goshen College, heard Tuesday that the long-awaited pedestrian-bike tunnel will finally be constructed under the Norfolk Southern train tracks that run through the heart of the campus.
“It’s seriously happening?” Chaponniere, a senior from Holland, Mich., said. “I remember them talking about it when I was a freshman.”
Even though Chaponniere won’t be around to enjoy the benefits of the tunnel — he’s set to graduate in May — he and others might want to visit the campus July 4 when the contractor begins, and ideally finishes, the much-anticipated project.
The holiday was chosen because train traffic will be halted to accommodate construction and the contractor, Northern Indiana Construction of Mishawaka, will be expected to finish the work in 24 hours.
“It’s going to be very fascinating to see how it’s done,” said Jim Histand, vice president for finance for the college.
Construction is expected to cost $1.64 million and will be covered through federal funds, according Mary Cripe, engineer for the city of Goshen, who was directly involved in much of the planning and negotiated with Norfolk Southern on the details for a year.
Cripe explained in a nutshell how the general scenario will unfold.
Rain or shine, beginning at midnight, a Norfolk Southern crew will have two hours to remove a portion of the tracks.
The contractor then has 20 hours to dig the hole and lower pre-formed concrete slabs into place to serve as the walls, floor and ceiling.
Fill dirt will then be returned and the railroad will have two hours to reassemble the tracks.
“It is unique,” Cripe said. “July 4 is going to be an interesting day.”
The plan entails an “extreme amount of pressure,” she said. In fact, the contractor could face a $5,000 charge for every hour the project extends beyond the approved timeframe.
College officials are covering the cost of engineering and relocation of utilities, which is expected to be upward of $200,000, Histand said.
The tunnel has been a longtime goal of college officials and it has been in the planning stages for about five years. Construction was slated to begin last year, but was delayed, Histand said.
The tunnel is a matter of convenience and safety. Histand estimates between six and 10 trains pass through the campus every day and some occasionally stop for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
The tacks divide the campus, with the dining hall and most classrooms on the west side of the tracks and student dorms on the east side.
In an attempt to prevent impatient pedestrians from crossing the tracks by stepping in between the cars while a train is stopped, college officials established $100 fines and posted warning signs at various crossing points used by students and faculty.
The tunnel will be constructed just south of a pedestrian crossing near the steam plant, and the existing path will remain intact so students don’t have to use the tunnel when tracks are clear.
Steps leading into the tunnel will be designed to include a groove at the base of the handrail, allowing cyclists to walk their bikes down and up the stairs, Histand said.
The design will also include a funicular, which resembles a wheelchair lift for the disabled, he said.