Bridge officials consider $76 million suicide net

The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District’s board will vote Friday on a plan to install a $76 million safety suicide prevention net below the sidewalk of the Bay Area landmark.

If approved, the net’s construction would take about three years, Denis Mulligan, the bridge’s general manager, told the Marin Independent Journal.

Previous efforts to build a safety net have not come to fruition, as the board struggled to find funding for the project and debated whether — as net opponents believe — a net on the bridge would not really prevent determined people from committing suicide.

Mulligan told the IJ:

“At other locations no one has yet to jump into a net. … The purpose of the project is to reduce the number of injuries and deaths associated with jumping off the bridge. Nothing in life is 100 percent foolproof. While nets have been 100 percent effective elsewhere, we are not promising it will be 100 percent effective here.”

In the proposed plan, available in a staff report posted on the district’s website for Friday’s vote, stainless steel netting would be placed 20 feet underneath the bridge’s pedestrian walkway.

The project was made possible by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, signed into law two years ago by President Obama. The law made “installation of safety barriers and nets on bridges” eligible for federal funding.

Of the proposed $76 million budget for the project, $49 million would consist of federal funds. $22 million would come from the Local Highway Bridge Program, administered by Caltrans, and $27 million from the Surface Transportation Program funds, administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, according to a press release posted on the district’s website.

The rest of the budget would be covered by $7 million from the California Mental Health Services Act and by $20 million of reserves from the district itself.

Suicide on the bridge accounts for more than 1,500 deaths to date, more than any other structure in the world, according to the Bridge Rail Foundation, an organization fighting for a net on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The staff report said the board put:

“… considerable thought, reflection and soul searching, and attentive consideration to the range of views expressed by members of the public, many of whom have testified as to the impact and consequences of suicide on their lives.”

The report concluded that:

“… construction of the suicide deterrent simply is the right thing to do at this time.”

Paul Muller, a spokesman for the Bridge Rail foundation, told the IJ:

“It’s good to finally see this happening. … We have been waiting a long time for this. Many loved ones have been lost.”