Golden Gate Bridge barrier moving forward

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Head-on collisions on the Golden Gate Bridge could be reduced within three years if appproval for a movable median barrier moves forward as planned, a spokeswoman for the bridge district said.

Creation of a 1-foot tall concrete barrier would replace the rubber pylons that are currently used to separate opposing traffic on the bridge. Safety advocates have been pushing for such a device for the last 70 years.

On Thursday, officials from a Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District subcommittee will vote on approving a contract to carry out the required environmental-impact study on the barrier. On Friday, the vote will go before the full Board of Directors.

It will likely take another month of additional regulation checks with local and state administrators before the study can begin — if  approved — according to bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie.

The report is scheduled to take 20 months — an extended timeframe due to the bridge being a national landmark. The median barrier, which is designed to be movable to accomodate travel that differs greatly from morning to evening commutes, is expected to be completed by late 2011, Currie said.

Robert Guernsey, who helped found Citizens for a Safe Golden Gate Bridge, said advocacy groups have been pushing the bridge district to add a barrier for seven decades.

“We’re getting closer to our goal, but we really wonder why this wasn’t done years ago,” Guernsey said.

Guernsey’s concerns took on heightened relevance earlier this year when two separate head-on auto collisions left 10 people injured.

On March 26, seven people were hurt in a 10-vehicle crash that stemmed from a head-on collision. On May 21, three people were injured in a head-on collision, although that accident started after one car sideswiped another.

Since 1970, there have been 36 vehicle fatalities on the bridge, with 16 the result of head-on collisions, Currie said. The last fatality was in 2001, and the last from a head-on collision came in 1988, Currie said.

Bridge officials have consistently cited a lack of funding as the main reason for the absence of a moveable barrier.

In February, the district was awarded $20 million in state funds for the $25 million projected cost of the barrier. The remaining funds will come from tolls.

The environmental-impact study will cost roughly $2.8 million, which has already been included in the budget.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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