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Golden Gate Suicide Barrier Work Kicks Off

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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A ceremony Thursday (April 13) marked the start of work on the long-planned suicide-deterrent net that will hang from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge with the intention of stopping potential jumpers on the landmark span.

The project, which was initiated in 2005 after decades of community discussion around the issue, will be built by the Oakland-based Shimmick/Danny’s Joint Venture as part of a $142 million contract. Preliminary work to be started in May includes measurement and the installation of temporary fencing.

Construction of the stainless-steel net itself will begin in 2018, and is expected to be complete in 2021, according to the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District. The net will extend 20 feet out from the bridge on each side, and will hang 20 feet below the deck.

As John Eberle, deputy district engineer for the District, explained in 2015 when the project first went to bid, the net will consist of steel wires, about 5/32 of an inch thick, fastened to 8-inch-by-8-inch horizontal steel supports that will be cantilevered out from under the bridge.

How It Will Work

The plan to situate the net 20 feet down from the deck stems from the idea that a fall from that height will deter potential jumpers, as jumpers would likely sustain non-fatal injuries on impact with the net. Fines will likely be instituted in order to discourage recreational jumping as well.

The likelihood of injury, combined with the steep angle of the net, would make it difficult for a would-be jumper to escape the net and jump again after the first attempt, according to plans. If a person were to jump, a snooper truck would be brought in, and rescue workers would recover the individual, according to plans released early in the project’s life.

Funding Issues

Part of the reason for the decade-plus planning period for the net has been its funding issues. Originally estimated at less than $50 million, the cost of the job has ballooned over the past decade. A transportation bill signed by former President Barack Obama in 2012 freed up federal money to help with the project, as suicide-prevention barriers were included as projects that federal funds could be used for.

Artist's rendering, Golden Gate suicide barrier
Renderings: Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District

According to plans, the net will extend 20 feet out from the bridge on each side, and will hang 20 feet below the deck.

The price tag on the suicide barrier rose significantly between October 2015, when the contract was first put out for bid, and December 2016, when the contract was issued. The estimated cost at the time of bidding was $76 million, and the project had $84 million budgeted.

The Shimmick/Danny’s winning bid was $142 million, a figure the joint venture came to after material requirements in the contract were changed, from a stainless steel that was relatively untested in marine environments to a marine-grade stainless steel that will be manufactured in the United States.

The total cost of the project, according to the District, is $192 million; coupled with a wind retrofit that’s been lumped in with the suicide deterrent project, the ultimate cost—including studies, design and construction—is $211 million.

The dual projects are being funded with money coming through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission ($74 million), Caltrans ($70 million), the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District ($60.5 million), state mental health funds as approved through a statewide referendum ($7 million) and private funding (about $400,000). Most of the funding coming from the MTC and Caltrans is federal money granted through the Surface Transportation Program and Highway Bridge Program, respectively.

It’s Been Done Elsewhere

Studies have shown that barriers like the one planned for the Golden Gate do tend to prevent suicides.

In 2011, the City of Ithaca, New York, approved the installation of suicide barrier nets on three city bridges to discourage jumpers after a number of highly publicized bridge suicides by Cornell University students. Prior to the nets, the city had installed fences, but citizens complained that the fences ruined the scenic views from the bridges.

Golden Gate Bridge rendering

The cost of the suicide barrier, originally estimated at less than $50 million, has ballooned to nearly $200 million total, in part because the plans were revised to require marine-grade stainless steel, manufactured in the United States.

And in Bern, Switzerland, a similar barrier was placed on the Munster Terrace Cathedral in 1998. Research done seven years later showed that not only had there been no suicides at the cathedral (which had seen an average of two every year previously), but there was no corresponding increase in fatal jumps at nearby “hotspots.”

Commemoration Ceremony

Thursday’s events included a commemoration ceremony, at which officials and family members of suicide victims spoke, and planted marigolds to remember those lost.

“This net is a net whose time has really come,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said. “Thirty-nine people died last year alone. What you’re doing here today, what the Bridge is doing, what the taxpayers are doing, will hopefully turn that number to zero.”

Kymberlyrenee Gamboa spoke of her 18-year-old son, who committed suicide on the bridge in 2013.

“Kyle is what led us to the journey to the Golden Gate Bridge, and to ask how and why suicide could happen here, and how to prevent future suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge,” Gamboa said. “Today marks the beginning of the end of suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge. Soon, no family will experience the devastation and tragedy of a suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge.”


Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Contractors; Funding; Government contracts; North America; Program/Project Management; Safety; Salt exposure; Seacoast exposure; Stainless steel

Comment from Silas Dogwood, (4/18/2017, 11:42 AM)

congrats to the team at FD Thomas for securing the painting contract.

Comment from peter gibson, (4/18/2017, 12:03 PM)

The theory behind this makes no sense...feels good though.

Comment from ken laszczak, (4/18/2017, 4:49 PM)

can't imagine that $211mm couldn't have been better spent?

Comment from M. Halliwell, (4/19/2017, 10:59 AM)

I wonder where the more than doubling of the price came from. ~$80 million on bidding but ~$194 million at award? Ouch. As for the theory / design not making sense, in reading a bit more about it, I get it. If they jump from the bridge, they can only fall about 20' and they are caught by the sharp angled net...if they are still committed and not too badly hurt from the first jump, they have to climb up the net to get the opportunity to try it again. For the rash decision types, the delay and effort should either dissuade them in the first place or prevent the 2nd attempt from the net (assuming they are not hurt enough to prevent it). For the committed, there are a lot "easier" ways to do yourself in then to fight with the bridge and the net. Won't prevent suicides, but will prevent a vast majority of the ones using the bridge.

Comment from Tony Rangus, (4/19/2017, 1:52 PM)

Marine Grade stainless?? Gee, I thought there was austenitic stainless, martensitic stainless, ferritic stainless, super-austenitic stainless, duplex stainless, super-duplex stainless & lean duplex stainless. Cannot wait for ASTM to come out with ASTM AXXX Marine Grade Stainless Steel or AISI to come out with AISI XXX Marine Grade!!!

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