SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A long talked-about suicide barrier is being installed on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Local officials gathered Thursday at the orange-red span to mark the beginning of work to line both sides of the bridge with steel netting.
The stainless steel net, located about 20 feet below the bridge’s sidewalk, will span 1.7 miles of roadway on each side of the bridge and extend 20 feet out over the water.
Families of suicide victims have long urged bridge authorities for some kind of barrier to prevent deaths.
It will cost more than $200 million to install the stainless steel netting. Bridge officials say the project will be completed by 2021.
More than 1,400 people have jumped to their deaths since the bridge opened in 1937.
Most jumpers suffer massive internal injuries, broken bones and skull fractures. Some die from internal bleeding while others drown.
At a ceremony Thursday to mark the start of the project, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that during the long process of obtaining the funding for the project, people would ask her, “isn’t that a lot of money for a net?”
“And we would say no, it’s not a lot of money for a life, for all of these lives,” Pelosi said.
“Together we are acting on a deep moral imperative to save lives wherever we can,” Pelosi said.
The scenic bridge has proven to have a deadly allure over the years, with 39 people dying by suicide there in 2016 alone and bridge patrol officers conducting 184 successful interventions that year to keep people
from harming themselves. More than 1,500 people are thought to have died there over the bridge’s 80-year lifespan.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor, shared her own personal experience with a Golden Gate Bridge suicide, when KGO radio talk show host and political activist Duane Garrett, who had worked on her campaigns, took his own life there in 1995.
“For many years, I had to wonder why,” Feinstein said. “And there are many families here Thursday that have had to wonder why.”
Despite the many deaths, the families of suicide victims have had a long, hard battle of many years, first to win support for a suicide barrier of some sort and then to see it funded. Local officials scrambled to assemble the last piece of funding in December 2016, after bids came in at least $120 million over original estimates.
Kymberlyrenee Gamboa, who lost her 18-year-old son Kyle to suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2013, Thursday said his death had led her and her husband on a journey to determine what could have led to his death and how others like it could be prevented.
“Thursday marks the beginning of the end of suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge,” Gamboa said. “Soon no family will experience the tragedy of a suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Work crews will begin installing temporary fencing along the bridge approaches and around the tower legs in May, with installation set to follow in mid-2018.
A Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health review found that, overall, nine out of 10 people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date.
Similarly, a 1978 study conducted at the Golden Gate Bridge showed that 90 percent of those who were prevented from jumping did not later die by suicide or other violent means.