By Jennifer Chaussee
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – It could soon be a lot harder for people bent on suicide to leap from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, as California state officials approved a funding plan on Friday to install mesh barriers beneath the historic span to catch jumpers before they hit the water.
The plan to create suicide barriers on the bridge, where 1,600 people have leapt to their deaths since the span opened in 1937, was a subject of controversy for decades, with opponents arguing they would mar the structure’s beauty.
“It’s a very emotional day, but it’s very historic,” said David Campos, a San Francisco city supervisor and a board member of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. “It’s a unanimous vote for life today at the board.”
On Friday, the board of directors of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District voted unanimously to accept state funding for the plan negotiated by state senate leader Darrell Steinberg and San Francisco lawmakers.
“It has been an uphill fight,” said state assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who has fought for over a decade to secure funding for the barrier. “But here we are, almost shovel ready.”
Last year, 48 people jumped to their deaths from the span, which hovers high above San Francisco Bay and connects the city of San Francisco with suburban Marin County. The Golden Gate is the second-most popular bridge for suicide in the world, after China’s Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, officials said.
The state funding, worth about $7 million, comes from a tax enacted by voters on those who make more than $1 million a year that is earmarked for mental health services. The rest of the $76 million project will be paid for with federal funds that recently became available, and local money from the bridge district.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Diane Craft)
[Image: Cars cross the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California March 26, 2013. By Stephen Lam for Reuters]