Potentially Life-Saving Project Wins Project of the Year

December 5, 2018

Annually, Construction Dive awards the industry's top innovators that take the extra mile to shape the future of construction, and this year was no exception. The much anticipated 2018 Project of the Year award went to the Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier, specifically because the project "is unparalleled in purpose and the potential to save lives as well as in terms of its sheer magnitude and complexity."

Though construction did not begin until this year, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District in San Francisco, CA approved the Golden Gate Bridge Physical Suicide Deterrent System Project over 10 years ago in 2008, making it a very long-awaited project. In fact, construction was meant to be completed this year, but lack of funding pushed the project back by three years. Now projected to be complete in January of 2021, this project involves erecting a net, made of marine-grade stainless steel cables that will be painted grey to blend in with the fog and water, that spans the 1.7 mile length of the bridge. Motorists and pedestrians will not be able to see the netting, as it will sit 20 feet below the bridge. However, anyone planning a jump will see it as they look down at the net, jutting 20 feet out from the bridge.

If the proposed netting system wasn't complex enough, there were several other requirements for the overall barrier system. Designers had to make sure that suicide barrier system project:

  • would not be a safety or nuisance hazard to those using the sidewalk under the bridge.
  • did not prevent bridge security officers from doing their jobs or blocking emergency access to the underside of the bridge.
  • complied with state and federal historic preservation laws.
  • did not create an injury risk to someone coming in contact with it.
  • would not interfere with the construction of a movable median barrier.

Additionally, there were other major projects that had to come with installing such a massive barrier system, including the replacement of four maintenance travelers with 12 battery-powered travelers, furnishing and installing 1,100 tons of rail girders to support the new system, as well as major cleaning and repainting efforts. There is also a need for a new wind retrofit system, as the barrier could change how the bridge responds to high wins, which could result in an unstable Golden Gate Bridge. The wind retrofit system itself requires 425 tons of steel along the main span of the west side of the bridge. The entire project, including all additions and upgrades, is currently projected to cost roughly $211 million. The construction company alone, Shimmick-Danny's JV, is under contract for $142 million with a nearly $28 million contingency.

The Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier will be funded by several government groups in addition to public donations, including:

  • Metropolitan Transportation Commission - $74 million
  • California Department of Transportation - $70 million
  • Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District - $60 million
  • California's Mental Health Service Act - $7 million

It's clear that this is a massive undertaking, but that's not the only thing Construction Dive took into consideration when awarding the 2018 Project of the Year. Since the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, over 1700 people have lost their lives jumping from this iconic bridge. In the past decade, completed suicides have risen by about 30 percent, resulting in roughly 35 deaths every year. Mental health professionals believe that even a net deterrent will drop the number of completed suicides from the bridge greatly, as those who actually survive an attempt (98% of jumps from the bridge result in death) are thankful to be alive today. These professionals insist that seeing a 20 foot drop to steel cables, which would be pretty painful, is enough to deter most potential suicide attempts, and the deterrence itself eliminates the impulse. Other bridges that have installed similar systems have seen a huge drop in completed suicides, with some even reaching zero a year. Relatives of the Golden Gate Bridge suicide victims, mental health professionals, and supporters in the community are hopeful that the installation of this system will save lives here as well.

For more information, visit Construction Dive and Psychiatric News.