Detour adds travel time for commuting students, employees

Meghann Anderson
Staff writer

The drive to the University has become much longer for some commuting students and faculty members due to the collapse of the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge on Jan. 26.

Bonnie Higginson, vice president of Academic Affairs, said emails were sent to all faculty members on Friday morning, asking them to work with the students affected by the bridge collapse.

Nursing students have a clinical placement in Hopkinsville, Ky., and Higginson expects this will continue although the travel time will be longer.

Chelsea Brown, senior from Hopkinsville, now has a 180-mile round trip from her home to the University and back.

Brown, who is a student in the nursing program, will have to leave her home at 3 a.m. to arrive in Murray for her 6:30 a.m. clinical.

“The University hasn’t really helped at all because we are struggling and don’t know who to talk to about our issues,” Brown said. “I am not happy about this at all. Help hasn’t been offered and I don’t have the time to hunt someone down for help.”

Due to the extended drive, Brown is staying in a hotel in Murray to save time and gas money. She said she will not be able to make the extra-long detoured commute because of the additional expenses.

Some of Brown’s fellow nursing classmates have offered to house her since the collapse of the bridge so her commute isn’t as severe.

Tracy Roberts, interim registrar, said there are 271 commuter students from Trigg and Christian counties who attend classes at the main campus. Out of those 271 students, 210 of them are full-time.

The bridge connects Trigg and Marshall counties over the Kentucky Lake.

“These stats are based on residency,” Roberts said, “Because of lack of good addresses, it’s hard to tell where they actually live while going to school.”

Sally Mateja, Institutional Review Board coordinator, in the past, had a 40-minute drive to the University, but now she is forced to commute one hour and 20 minutes on the days she works on campus.

“We have accommodated one full-time staff member in Academic Affairs by allowing her to work from her home three days each week,” Higginson said.

Mateja estimated her new expenses after the collapse of the bridge by calculating 40 cents per mile, and adding the change in her commute with the extra 100 miles a day.

“I will pay an additional $9,600 a year for my commuting costs,” Mateja said. “That means that I just took approximately a 30 percent cut in pay.”

“Economically, I’m not sure that anything else could have done so much damage to the prosperity of my area of western Kentucky,” Mateja said.

“We are looking at the feasibility of delivering some classes to the Hopkinsville campus via ITV (interactive television),” Higginson said.

Brian Van Horn, dean of Continuing Education Academic Outreach, said in order to deliver classes via ITV the faculty would have to be willing and able to teach the class and the ITV lab would have to be open for use.

The University has four ITV labs on campus.

“The faculty at Murray State is the best in the world,” Van Horn said. “They are good to students. I find that most often Murray State faculty are willing to help students anyway they can.”

Van Horn said Jennifer Husemann, coordinator of credit evaluation, is working on the Hopkinsville campus since the collapse of the bridge.

Sean McElwain, student from Cadiz, Ky., also has added an hour to his commute since the incident involving the bridge. He said none of his teachers have asked students if the bridge collapse has affected their drive to campus.

“For people who commute it feels like it has been forever (since the bridge collapse),” McElwain said. “There is not going to be a fast fix.”

University President Randy Dunn said keeping an open mind to assist commuting students and employees is a priority.

“We don’t really have anything to offer them but the patience of the campus,” he said. “I think it was a wise move very early on to counsel faculty and staff to extend patience with those folks who commute everyday for the additional time it’s going to take them and some of the hardship that’s going to be added on to some of the families. The campus owes it to those individuals to do all we can to cooperate and assist however possible.”