MONEY to fund the building of a suicide barrier on San Francisco’s majestic Golden Gate Bridge was to be voted on last night.
It is seen as a pivotal moment in a decades-long debate pitting the families of suicide victims and other supporters of a barrier versus those who believe it will not prevent people from finding other ways to take their lives on the bridge.
Since the Golden Gate opened in 1937, more than 1,400 people have fallen to their deaths, including a record 46 suicides last year, officials said.
The bridge’s board was set to vote on a US $76 million (£45m) funding package for a net for the landmark which would prevent people being able to fall from the bridge.
“It’s a very critical vote. Our fingers are crossed to get this net built – finally,” said Paul Muller, a founding member of the non-profit Bridge Rail Foundation, whose goal is to prevent people from being able to take their lives on the bridge. “This is a big step.”
The bridge’s board voted in 2008 to install a stainless steel net, rejecting other options, including raising the 4ft-high railings and leaving the iconic span unchanged.
Two years later, it certified the final environmental impact report for the net, which would stretch about 20ft wide on each side of the span. But funding for the project remained a major obstacle.
A significant hurdle was overcome two years ago when president Barack Obama signed into law a bill making safety barriers and nets eligible for federal funds.
The current funding package for the net relies on obtaining $49m in federal money, $7m from the state and $20m from bridge district reserves made up of proceeds from tolls.
At least some of the money still requires additional approval, but the bridge’s board will have taken its final step in adopting the net if it approves the funding, said Denis Mulligan, the bridge’s general manager.
Health officials in the Californian city said people who fall from the bridge often suffer massive internal injuries, broken bones and skull fractures. Some die from internal bleeding and many drown.
Kevin Hines amazingly survived a suicide attempt after jumping off the structure in 2000 at the age of 19.
Yesterday, Mr Hines said he felt “instant regret” when he jumped and believes a net will deter suicidal people.
“Not one more soul, not one more soul will be lost to that bridge,” the 32-year-old said.
If the net funding is approved, Mr Mulligan said bidding on the job would start next year, with completion of construction expected in 2018.
The Golden Gate Bridge spans the Golden Gate strait, the mile-wide, three-mile-long channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.