A Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier is nanny-state government writ large

A report about the endlessly rising costs of a suicide barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge connecting San Francisco and Marin perfectly illustrates why it’s questionable whether the government should take it upon itself to swaddle its citizens in an effort to protect them from all physical harm.

Beginning in 2008, the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (“Bridge District”) began exploring ways to keep the bridge, which was then carrying 120,000 vehicles per day, in addition to pedestrian and bike traffic, from being a suicide mecca.

And it is a suicide mecca: Although the Bridge District has been extremely careful to keep the numbers secret (I knew someone who worked there who confided that policy to me), the guesstimate is that, between 1937 and 2012, 1,400 bodies that were found in the San Francisco Bay probably originated as bridge jumpers. In 2022, the guesstimate is nearing 2,000. That averages out to around 23 suicides per year over 85 years.

That’s a very sad number. Each suicide isn’t just the loss of that person, it is the trauma visited on the survivors who can never get over the sense that they failed the person who committed suicide. Survivor trauma is real and serious.

However, the question is whether it is the government’s responsibility to invest significant amounts of taxpayer money trying to make the Golden Gate Bridge suicide-proof. While it’s known that some people are seized by an impulse to jump when they’re on the bridge and while some will not contemplate suicide in a method other than a jump from that iconic site, it’s also certain that a sizable number of suicidal people, if they cannot achieve their sad goal by one method will find another. So stopping all suicides will never happen.

Image: Golden Gate Bridge as seen from Marshall’s Beach, 2018, by Frank Schulenburg. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Now for the chronology, which is a perfect example of your government at work:

2008: The Bridge District put the matter before the public, offering five possible plans to deter suicides, all priced somewhere between $40-50 million. The Bridge District then voted to install a stainless-steel net below the bridge for an estimated $49 million, which didn’t then exist.

2012: Obama’s Transportation Re-Authorization Bill, provides $49 million taxpayer dollars. However, the estimated cost was now $76 million.

2014: The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a California commission focused on San Francisco Bay Area transportation coughed up the additional $27 million needed to do the job.

2017: Work finally begins after a three-year delay because National Park Service was concerned about storing construction materials on site. Materials such as structural pieces and stainless-steel netting start being fabricated off-site.

2018: The contractor began installing the netting, with the work due to be finished in 2021. However, by this time, the price had ballooned to $211 million. Also, the lead contractor (AECOM) announced that completion would be delayed until 2023 because the original contractor (Shimmick), which AECOM acquired, had underbid the project.

Friday, March 25, 2022: News broke that the $211 million price tag has increased again:

The cost to build the suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge is expected to increase by nearly $2.3 million because of additional construction delays and contract changes, according to bridge district officials.


While the bridge district has been criticized for the project’s high price tag, Paul Muller —  president of the Bridge Rail Foundation, a suicide prevention nonprofit — said there is much more to the project than the metal net.

“The bottom line is, this is a life-and-death matter,” Muller said Friday. “We’ve lost almost 2,000 people off the bridge since it was opened. It’s long, long past time to get this thing resolved.”

The Bridge District is blaming the contractor for the new, almost $213.5 million price tag, the contractor is blaming the Bridge District, and both are blaming Shimmick.

The linked article does not say where the $137.5 million ($213.5 million minus the originally quoted price of $76 million) is coming from. I have a good guess: It’s coming from you. Pete Buttigieg will make sure the feds pay for some and Gavin Newsom will put beleaguered Californians on the hook for the rest.

And while every suicide is a tragedy, taxpayers must ask, in a dangerous world and one in which human nature assures that some people will make bad, sad decisions, should taxpayers have been forced to pay $213.5 million to save an average of 23 people per year?

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