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Originally published Tuesday, July 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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3 designs released for fence on Aurora Bridge

Three designs have been released for construction of a tall fence on the bridge to prevent people from jumping to their deaths

Seattle Times staff reporter

Since 1932, more than 200 people have ended their lives by throwing themselves over the Aurora Bridge's 3 ½-foot railing, and the state wants to put a stop to it.

Three designs have been released for construction of a tall fence on the bridge to prevent people from jumping to their deaths.

The state also has formed a committee of community, business and government advisers to choose what kind of fence will be built.

Someone attempts to commit suicide by jumping from the bridge about once every three months.

Just Monday, a man put a leg over the railing on the west side of the bridge in an apparent suicide attempt but was talked down by Seattle police.

Nine people jumped to their deaths in both 1972 and in 2006.

More than 40 people have jumped from the bridge in the past decade.

Alarmed by the high suicide rate, Gov. Christine Gregoire last year put $1.4 million in her budget to build an 8-foot suicide-prevention fence on the historic bridge.

Any design will have to be approved by the city's Landmarks Preservation Board because the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The fence would have to comply with federal and state historic preservation laws.

The proposed plan will go to the landmarks board in November, said Greg Phipps of the state Department of Transportation, which would build the fence.

The fence is expected to cost about $7.3 million, so the Legislature will need to appropriate an additional $5.9 million next year. If funding is approved, the DOT plans to complete the design of the fence next year and begin construction in 2010.

Phipps said many designs have been considered, but some were considered too modern and likely wouldn't have passed the landmarks board.

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"This is a unique bridge, an icon in Seattle," he said. He said of the three designs that the committee will consider, there is no favorite, but said the only consensus is that residents want the bars to be vertical.

The bridge has the second-highest rate for bridge suicides in the nation, behind San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. The land and water below the Aurora Bridge are populated by residents, rowers, employees, boaters and users of the Burke-Gilman Trail.

The bridge, built in 1931, is officially named the George Washington Memorial Bridge and links the Queen Anne and Fremont and Wallingford neighborhoods, carrying Aurora Avenue over the west end of Seattle's Lake Union. The bridge is 2,945-feet long and sits 167 feet above Lake Union.

The first suicide was in 1932, when a 32-year-old shoe salesman jumped to his death.

Lorena Eng, regional administrator with the DOT, says the new committee will ensure the fence reflects the community's wishes and meets the permit requirements of the landmarks board.

Last year, the DOT installed six emergency phones on the bridge to help stop suicides.

The idea of building a fence was spurred on by a group of activists, businesses and community leaders who hoped a barrier on the bridge would be built or that the bridge would be closed to pedestrians altogether.

They started an organization, FRIENDS (Fremont Residents, Individuals and Employees Nonprofit to Decrease Suicides).

Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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