Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier nets funding, but more money is needed 

The Golden Gate Bridge District is set to embark on a $4 million engineering study designed to make its proposed suicide deterrent system “shovel-ready,” but there is still no funding lined up to complete the $50 million project.

On Thursday, a district subcommittee approved a contact for design studies of the system of nets to lie 20 feet below the famous span. Spokeswoman Mary Currie said the study should be finished in 18 to 20 months and will complete the design process for the system first approved in 2008. It will be funded through a $5 million grant.

Yet Currie said the design  could be completed by 2013 without any money set aside to build the project.

When it approved the net in 2008, the district stipulated that funding would not come from toll revenue, meaning the remaining $45 million must be found at the state and federal level.

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a former member of the district board of directors, said Bay Area politicians are pushing hard for funding to be included in the new federal transportation act. He said other bridge and highway districts across the nation are seeking similar funding, which helps the bridge’s chances, since the request will not be seen as an earmark.

However, Congress  has dithered over a new federal transportation bill for two years, opting instead to extend the existing act, which sets aside no such funding. Ammiano said he’s hopeful a new bill may be introduced later this year.

“There is such strong political will for this project, which is good,” Ammiano said. “But on the other hand, the mechanics of these things move so slow.”

Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler said relying on federal funding is risky. He noted that a federal aviation funding bill was just extended for the 20th time. “Looking to the federal government
for help is an act of hope over experience,” he said.

Paul Mueller, executive director of The Bridge Rail Foundation, a suicide-prevention group, said federal funding is the only hope since California’s finances are such a mess.  “We looked into possible state funding, but it’s simply not a reality in the current climate,” He said.

Eve Meyer, executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, said she’s glad the district is moving forward with its plans and optimistic that a federal funding solution will arise. The full district is expected to approve the study today.

“We’ve been pushing for this project for so long, and we’re almost there,” Meyer said. “Right now, I’ve got no option other than to be hopeful.”

More than 1,300 people have leapt to their death from the Golden Gate Bridge since it was opened in 1937.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Margin of safety

$50 million: Total cost of suicide deterrent system
$5 million: Funding secured for project
20 feet: Distance that the net would hang below the bridge span
More than 1,300: Estimated suicides on Golden Gate Bridge since it was built in 1937

Source: Golden Gate Bridge District

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Will Reisman

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