The Sinclair gas station now stands at night like a lonely headstone, but construction for a pedestrian tunnel will begin at the site within a year. Randy Neilson/UVU Review

Underground tunnels denote many things, but none of them terribly pleasant. Morlocks live in tunnels. As do Mole People, Lizard People, Crawlers, Sewer Gators, Graboids and Gollum.

Also, muggers and rapists. Which, unlike the above listed, is a very real threat.

The state of Utah has set its sights on a relatively small project – a subterranean walkway that goes underneath University Parkway. The tunnel will span only the short distance from the Wal-Mart side of the street to the former site of the Sinclair service station.

Construction is projected to begin next May and be complete by August.

An underground thoroughfare is certainly convenient and safe for students walking to campus, at least in the sense of traffic.

Rather than wait for a “WALK” sign, or worse, dashing haphazardly across University Parkway right at the mouth of I-15, students and visitors will be able to safely amble below the traffic.

If proper measures aren’t taken, however, the proposed tunnel, while greatly reducing the risk of getting plowed by a careening Escalade above ground, could quickly become a happy hunting ground for all the perverts and mashers lurking in the Provo/Orem area.

Worse, the tunnel might be a secondary location for those sick people who feel that BYU’s infamous “Rape Hill” is getting too crowded.

This is a serious threat to consider, given Utah’s sexual assault statistics. While Utah’s crime rates are generally lower than the national average, the state stands out in terms of forcible rape: 34.1 per 100,000 people in Utah versus 30.9 nationally.

Putting it a little more concretely, the Utah Department of Health reports that 1 in 3 Utah women will experience some form of sexual violence during her lifetime. In addition, 1 in 8 women report experiencing a rape or attempted rape.

What’s perhaps even more shocking is that only 9.8 percent of these rapes are reported to law enforcement.

Essentially, rape is occurring much more frequently than most of the good people in Happy Valley think.

The chances of college women being raped is higher than for the general female population. There are over 30,000 students on campus and the prospect of some place below the ground, easily accessible and virtually invisible to aboveground eyes, becomes downright frightening.

Fortunately, both the university and the state seem to be committed to keeping the proposed tunnel as safe as possible.

When asked what such a project would require to meet the safety needs of students, Adonica Kauwe, who works at the Women’s Resource Center on campus, stated that cameras, thorough lighting and emergency phones would be essential, as well as regular patrolling by campus police.

This list pretty much matches the safety features included in the tunnel’s plans, according to Jim Michaelis, associate vice president of facilities. In fact, the tunnel will also hopefully include a skylight and will be built wide enough to fit a vehicle inside, should an emergency require such.

Kauwe noted that campus administration has been very accommodating to student safety. Recently, when the Women’s Resource Center reported a poorly lit sidewalk near the Sorensen Student Center, the wheels were put in motion almost immediately and new lights were built.

Between that kind of swift action and the obvious care going into the planning of this upcoming tunnel, UVU is proving itself to be an institution that actually cares about the well-being of its students.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to applaud this sort of institutional proactivity – it would simply be expected that a university makes efforts to keep its students safe.

Unfortunately, in the context of Utah, and particularly in the context of BYU, what should normally be a standard has become an occasion for applause. The Cougars can thump their chests and beam all they want about their university on the hill.

But the fact of the matter is that while we don’t have a football team or a nationally-renowned business school, we also don’t have a whole section of our campus colloquially known as “Rape Hill.”

That should count for something. Go you, Wolverines.