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Originally published Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Money for fence to cut Aurora Bridge suicides

Gov. Christine Gregoire is hoping to take the Aurora Bridge off the list of most popular bridges for committing suicide, by putting $1.4 million in her supplemental-budget...

The Associated Press

Gov. Christine Gregoire is hoping to take the Aurora Bridge off the list of most popular bridges for committing suicide, by putting $1.4 million in her supplemental-budget proposal to begin building an 8-foot suicide-prevention fence on the historic landmark.

More than 40 people are known to have jumped off the bridge in the past decade. Most years, three or four people jump, although nine leapt to their deaths in 2006, tying 1972 as the worst year on record for known suicides from the Aurora Bridge.

The Seattle bridge has the second-highest rate for bridge suicides in the nation, Gregoire said, but doesn't come close to No. 1, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, where about 25 people reportedly jump to their deaths each year.

"Installation of an 8-foot suicide-prevention fence with illumination on the Aurora Avenue Bridge will help make the bridge safer and can help prevent suicides," the governor said in budget documents released Tuesday.

She said she plans to put additional dollars in her budget proposal for the 2009-11 budget period, and estimated the total cost of the project would be $7.5 million.

The half-mile bridge built in 1931 carries state Highway 99 over water at its highest point, 155 feet above the channel connecting Lake Union and the Lake Washington Ship Canal north of downtown. But many jumpers fall on solid ground, sometimes onto a parking lot in a former warehouse district that has morphed into a trendy area full of office buildings, shops and restaurants.

The people who work below the bridge and those who live in the neighborhood should get the credit for the fence money in the governor's supplemental budget, said Stan Suchan, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

"That project largely exists because of community involvement. The community is passionate about this," Suchan said. "I do share their concerns, and I'm eager for the project to move forward."

The project is complicated by the bridge's status as a national historic landmark and by the fact that the steel-truss bridge carries 45,000 vehicles a day on one of the main north-south routes through Seattle and requires careful, frequent safety inspections, he said.

A year ago, his department worked with city officials and suicide-prevention experts to install six emergency phones and 18 signs on the bridge, for suicide deterrence. The signs encourage people to seek help instead of jumping.

Government officials previously had ruled out a suicide-prevention fence because it would complicate the inspection process. The bridge is inspected by a special truck that dangles a bucket carrying the inspector over the railing.

Transportation planners will need to find a solution that allows inspections, while still preventing suicides, Suchan said.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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