OAKLAND -- A Metropolitan Transportation Commission committee approved $27 million in funding for a suicide net on the Golden Gate Bridge Wednesday, all but assuring the money will be available to build the barrier on the span.
The full MTC board is expected to give its approval July 23 to the Programming and Allocations Committee recommendation to give the money to the $76 million project.
The MTC -- the Bay Area's transportation planning agency -- has been a key and active player in getting dollars for the suicide barrier.
"We would not be at this juncture today but for MTC's leadership role in this project," Denis Mulligan, the Golden Gate Bridge District's general manager, said at the committee meeting.
In 2006, MTC gave the Golden Gate Bridge District $250,000 toward an environmental study and testing of barrier designs to determine the impact on the bridge's overall wind stability with a barrier.
"That money was vital in moving the project from a standstill to where it is today," Mulligan said.
Then in 2010 the agency approved $5 million in funding for the design of the suicide barrier.
Steve Heminger, executive director of MTC, credited the families of suicide victims for doggedly pursuing the barrier. Many came to the meeting.
"I am so sorry we can't bring your loved ones back, but I do hope this net will ease your pain," he told the survivors. "I do know this will save lives, a lot of lives. It has been a labor of love for all of us."
Heminger noted in particular the efforts of MTC finance staffer Ross McKeown.
"He has proven to be a master at finding money for very untraditional things, and this project is certainly one of them," Heminger said. "He not only figured out a way for the MTC to make its contribution, but also took it as a personal mission to get that $22 million from the state of California and I think he lifted it out of their pocket before they knew it was gone."
Caltrans will contribute $22 million, the state $7 million from Mental Health Services Act funds and the bridge district $20 million in addition to the MTC money.
Erika Brooks of Fairfax, whose daughter, Casey, 17, jumped from the span in 2008, spoke to the committee about her experience.
"We had no idea there were so many suicides from the span," she told committee members. "This is like having a problem with your kidney or your heart. We need to show people that are at-risk that we care about them enough to make this bridge safe."
It could take up to three years before the barrier in erected.
Originally priced at $50 million, the project cost jumped to $76 million after it was discovered equipment used by workers to maintain the bridge would have to be replaced and moved to create room for the net.
Part of the work will include a wind retrofit so the net does not catch big gusts and potentially damage the bridge. A fairing will be placed right below the sidewalk to accomplish that. The bridge district's suicide barrier plan calls for a net extending 20 feet below and 20 feet from the side of the span. The net would be made of stainless steel cable. While people could still jump into the net, such occurrences might be rare because the net would act as a deterrent. A similar net was placed more than a decade ago on the Munster Terrace cathedral in Bern, Switzerland, and since then no suicide attempts have been reported.
Backers of a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge got a boost in July 2012 when President Obama signed a transportation bill that includes language allowing federal funds to flow to the project.
That transportation bill contains crucial wording allowing funding for suicide prevention including safety rails and nets on bridges. The language in the bill also clarifies that institutions such as the Golden Gate Bridge district -- a special-purpose district -- are eligible for these funds.
It was Sen. Barbara Boxer, who once served on the bridge board when she was a Marin County supervisor, who agreed to carry the language in the bill. ------ (c)2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com