Golden Gate Bridge suicide net faces more delays as projected costs could double

Golden Gate Bridge officials are on the cusp of snagging more time to determine why the cost to construct the bridge’s suicide net is twice what they initially thought.

Initially estimated to cost $75.6 million by contractors working for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, the two bids for the project came in at more than twice that amount: $174 million and $142 million, respectively.

On Thursday, the Golden Gate District’s Budget and Oversight Committee voted to approve a 90-day extension for the bidding period so bridge officials can answer one lingering question:

Why did the cost double?

The Golden Gate Bridge Physical Suicide Deterrent System Project was initiated in 2006, according to the district. The net was proposed to prevent those drawn to the iconic bridge from dying by suicide.

This is the third delay this year along the road for the district to approve bids for the suicide net, according to the district, as the board twice pushed back votes on the project bids earlier this year.

The initial date of bid opening was set for Oct. 10, and now may be pushed back to Jan. 9, 2017. The committee vote Thursday requires a vote of the full district board today, which the district said it expects to be approved.

The cost the district estimated for the project — $75.6 million — is funded and included in the 2015-16 budget, according to the district. Of that funding, $49 million is from federal sources, $7 million from the California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission and $19.6 million from the Golden Gate District itself.

The bids were far higher than $75.6 million. Shimmick Construction Company, Inc./Danny’s Construction Company LLC bid to build the project at $142 million, and American Bridge Company bid to build the project for $174.4 million.

District officials said Thursday they are exploring additional sources of funding.

“If we don’t have money in place, we can’t accept any of the plans,” said district spokesperson Priya Clemens. The district is also investigating the wide gap in funding predictions, Clemens said.

Denis Mulligan, general manager of the district, said so far there are a few reasons the district suspects the cost may have increased.

“It’s access,” he told the San Francisco Examiner.

The trouble lies in figuring out “how to get the parts there,” he said. There is a 20-foot drop from the sidewalk of the bridge to where the net would go, and that’s proved to be a planning conundrum.

Also adding to the complexity is the need to keep access for pedestrians and “thousands” of daily commuting cyclists during construction, Mulligan said.

“People haven’t done something like this before, on this big a scale. That all effects the price,” he said.

And the two project bidders have peppered the district with hundreds of questions as they figure out this “experimental” project, Clemens said.

“We don’t say here’s how you do it, we just say this is what we want to do,” said Clemens. That’s part of what’s taking so much time, officials said — everyone is learning as they go, because the project is so unique.

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