Orangeburg’s students say a planned pedestrian bridge linking the universities and downtown Orangeburg will make the city safer for them.

“This project is truly going to be transformative to students,” Claflin University sophomore Layla DeCosta said at a Wednesday press conference.

“Many freshmen aren’t allowed to have cars on campus, so a lot of them are walking through Orangeburg,” she said.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced a $22.8 million grant to build the bridge, plus make other improvements, during the press conference at the Orangeburg County Conference Center.

Students currently have to cross busy Magnolia Street and railroad tracks to access the downtown area.

During the school year, students can usually be seen walking to Dollar General, Philly Special and McDonald’s, DeCosta said.

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Magnolia Street and the railroad tracks separate students from the once-vibrant Railroad Corner.

“This is personal,” Congressman James Clyburn said.

Clyburn graduated from S.C. State in 1962, and his brother went to Claflin. Clyburn recalls frequenting shops on Railroad Corner as a student.

Railroad Corner was once a “thriving hub for African American businesses.”

Now, those shops are vacant.

Jabez Roberson, Claflin’s Student Government Association president, believes the bridge will lead to “students interacting with Orangeburg more.”

“I’m excited to see what shops and businesses come,” Roberson said.

S.C. State SGA President Zyah Cephus says students often travel to Columbia or Charleston due to a lack of resources in Orangeburg.

She is hoping that will soon change amid construction of the bridge.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, bridging the gap between the Orangeburg community and students. I really want us to expand. Other college towns have stores and shops all around,” Cephus said.

“I think in order to evolve, it is important we bring a variety of businesses to the Orangeburg area while highlighting and advancing existing businesses.”

“Them investing in us results in us investing in them,” Cephus said.

Construction on the project is expected to begin by 2024, Orangeburg City Administrator Sidney Evering II said.

He says the project is about “bridging the divide symbolically and figuratively,” and disconnecting from the “other side of the tracks” narrative.

“Federal dollars will be used to connect rather than divide,” Buttigieg said.

The grant is part of a $2.2 billion fund from the RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) discretionary grant program. The Biden-Harris Administration awarded grants to a total of 162 projects across the nation.

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