President Derek Halvorson and CFO Dan Wykoff met with Georgia state officials early this year to discuss redirecting Scenic Highway to the east in an effort to unify the campus and make it safer for students, Wykoff confirmed this week.
Halvorson and Wykoff traveled to Atlanta on Jan. 31 to meet with Georgia state Senator Jeff Mullis (R–Chickamauga) and Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry—and his team—to ask them to consider moving Scenic Highway away from the main campus.
In a phone interview last Friday, Wykoff expressed the administration’s fear that students may be struck using one of the south campus crossings. “We don’t want our students to have to play chicken with oncoming cars,” he said.
Halvorson and Wykoff pitched a plan to redirect Scenic Highway towards the east where it passes below the Chapel. The thoroughfare would then pass around behind the cottages and return to its normal course south of the Kirk.
Wykoff said that the college is willing to gift the necessary land to the Georgia Department of Transportation in order to make the plan possible.
Redirecting Scenic Highway is the most recent step in a chain of decisions going back almost a decade, said the CFO, when the Board of Directors produced a plan to expand and develop Covenant’s campus. The Campus Planning committee, which meets during the college’s regular board meetings, spearheaded the plans.
The Campus Planning committee determines the best layout of Covenant’s real estate holdings, including several properties east of Scenic Highway. Among those are the guest cottages, the Lookout Lot, two residential houses, and the Kirk.
Having Scenic Highway run through campus creates two problems that Covenant wants to redress.
Although Covenant has created several crosswalks, complete with flashing lights to warn oncoming traffic, the Highway still presents a safety hazard. Thick fog, which rests on the top of the mountain during much of the fall and spring semesters, severely reduces visibility—often to less than twenty feet.
As the Campus expands, the danger increases.
“The more crossings there are, the more likely a student will be struck,” Wykoff said.
Covenant also wants to preserve the ethos of a pedestrian campus. If Covenant were to build on the other side of the highway, it is likely that those buildings would feel cut off from the rest of the community.
Wykoff estimates that moving Scenic Highway would cost 4-5 million dollars, and he thinks that now is the best time to do it. He hopes that the Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner's office will dedicate part of the billion dollars dedicated to highway repair and maintenance—part of House Bill 170, passed in 2015—to the project.
Wykoff described the commissioner’s response as “gracious,” but said it was unlikely that the state would implement Covenant’s plan. “We are optimistic, but we also know it isn’t likely,” Wykoff said. Even if the commissioner’s office approved the move today, Wykoff said it would take 2-4 years.