Median barrier study approved for Golden Gate Bridge

Next month contractors will begin the first-ever study on the possibilities of establishing a median barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge, a proposal that has been in discussion for 70 years.

As expected, the bridge district’s board of directors unanimously approved a contract on Friday for engineers to start environmental analysis on a central barrier for the span.

The study will test the impacts of a foot-wide, concrete median barrier on the bridge, which will replace the rubber pylons currently used to separate automobile travel on the span.

To accommodate differing flows of traffic during the morning and evening commutes, the new barrier is designed to be easily moveable. High-maintenance vehicles, commonly referred to as “zipper trucks,” will transport the barrier.

The environmental study is expected to begin in October and last 20 months, according to bridge documents. If all additional plans regarding the proposal are approved, the new median barrier is expected to be in place by the end of 2011.

“This is an important milestone,” bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie said. “We look forward to having the barrier on the bridge by 2011.”

Safety advocates have been pushing for the median barrier for decades as the only guarantee to end head-on collisions on the bridge.

There have already been two notable accidents involving head-on collisions this year.

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 automobile fatalities on the Golden Gate Bridge, with 16 the result of head-on collisions, Currie said. The last automobile fatality was in 2001, and the last fatality from a head-on collision came in 1988, Currie said.

Due to safety standards such as increased enforcement and lower speed limits, the accident rate on the bridge is currently three times lower than it was in the 1980s, Currie said.

The San Francisco branch of KMDM Harris contractors will carry out the study, which is budgeted to cost $3.8 million.

The total cost of installing the moveable median barrier is $25 million. Of that total, $20 million will come from federal and state grant money, while the remaining $5 million will be made up in bridge toll revenue.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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