July 8, 2008

Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier to Cost $50 Million

By Mark Prado, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

Jul. 8--Erecting a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge could cost as much as $50 million, according to an environmental assessment released Monday by the Golden Gate Bridge District.

"The cost is astronomical," said Marin Supervisor Hal Brown, a member of the bridge district's Board of Directors. "I'm all for some type of barrier, but where we get that kind of money I have no idea. Maybe through grants."

Initial estimates had pegged construction of a barrier at $15 million to $25 million.

The report also details several design options under consideration, including:

- Adding an 8-foot vertical fencing system to the existing 4-foot-tall hand rail, for a total height of 12 feet.

- Adding an 8-foot-tall horizontal fencing system to the 4-foot-tall hand rail with a "winglet" or panel on top, totaling 12 feet in height.

- Replacing the 4-foot-tall hand rail with a 12-foot-tall vertical fence.

- Replacing the 4-foot-tall handrail with a 10-foot-tall horizontal fence with a winglet on top, for a total height of 10 feet.

- Adding a horizontal net system 20 feet below the sidewalk that extends 20 feet from the bridge.

The netting system is the least expensive option at $25 million, while all other options would cost $40 million to $50 million.

The document said the visual impact of the netting would be minimal, except when viewed from Vista Point on the northeast side of the span -- where it would be considered an "adverse" impact.

The other fencing

options would be considered of "minimal" visual impact away from the span except at Vista Point, but the view from on the bridge would be considered "adverse" or "strongly adverse."

"It's like driving in a tunnel made from a cage," said Dietrich Stroeh, bridge board member from Marin. "If we did this, the net would be the way to go."

The net would be made from stainless steel cable and would collapse slightly if someone jumped in, making it difficult to get out, bridge officials said. The district would buy a "snooper" truck with an elongated arm to get people out, although exact details on how the rescues would be made have not been fully worked out.

A similar net was placed nine years ago on the Munster Terrace cathedral in Bern, Switzerland, and since then no suicide attempts have been reported, bridge officials have said.

"We are no longer looking at a project to 100 percent stop all suicides," said Mary Currie, bridge district spokeswoman. "We want a project that will impede one's ability to commit suicide."

Oakland-based DMJM Harris Inc. conducted the study on the barrier, part of a $2 million project funded in large part by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's transportation planning agency.

The report does not make any recommendations -- that will be up to the Board of Directors, which could make a decision by the end of the year. The district would likely seek federal grants to fund the project.

"This is long overdue," said Eve Meyer, executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention. "The faster this moves along, the better. I'm happy we have come this far."

About 20 people jump from the span every year, according to the district. But last year 38 people jumped; 10 people had jumped through May 30 this year, according to the district. More than 1,300 people have jumped to their deaths since the bridge opened in 1937.

Discussion of a barrier began in the 1950s. Before the most recent initiative to erect a barrier, the issue was considered in 1999, when a 100-foot prototype fence was unveiled. But officials determined the design was not foolproof and was a bad fit, and it was abandoned.

The issue got national attention when filmmaker Eric Steel revealed he spent all of 2004 filming people leaping from the span for a documentary titled "The Bridge."

The bridge district will hold a public meeting on Golden Gate Bridge barrier options from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 22 at the Embassy Suites Hotel, 101 McInnis Parkway in San Rafael. For more information, visit www.ggbsuicidebarrier.org.

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at [email protected]

Read more Sausalito & Marin City stories at the IJ's Sausalito, Marin City section.


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