Behind Schedule, Over Budget, Golden Gate Suicide Net to Cost $400M

Contractors are suing the government, claiming it caused expenses to more than double, from $142 million to at least $398 million

A suicide prevention net planned for San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is already a year behind schedule, but will still cost tax payers about $400 million—twice the original estimate, according to the head contractor. He blames the colossal waste and grim failure on the government agency that manages one of the world’s most famous bridges.

The allegations were filed Monday in California court by Shimmick Construction Co. and Danny’s Construction Co., who say that imperfections in the steel mesh net designed by the government and previously unknown degradation of the bridge’s maintenance platforms, built in the 1950, have sent construction costs from $142 million to at least $398 million, the Associated Press reports.

“We were alarmed to discover the District concealed significant information during the proposal phase of the Project, including extensive deterioration in certain areas of the bridge,” Shimmick said in a statement.

The suicide prevention net planned for the 85 year-old bridge would extend 20 feet along both sides of the entire 1.7-mile span. In 2008, bridge officials voted to go ahead with the project as both a deterrent and a last-chance safety measure. Work began in 2018 and was expected to be finished by January 2021, but has suffered setbacks.

Nearly 2,000 souls have committed suicide by jumping from the bridge since it opened in 1937, including 25 in the last year, said Paul Muller, president of the Bridge Rail Foundation, a nonprofit launched to stop bridge suicides.

But some have survived. Both Kevin Hines and Ken Baldwin are among 35 people who lived to talk about four-second, 240-foot drop from the main span to the icy strait below.

In 2000, 19 years-old and suffering from hearing voices due to bipolar disorder, Hines took a photo of a tourist before going over the railing. “It was a split-second decision,” he told ABC7 in 2017. “My thought was, ‘Absolutely nobody cares. Nobody.’ I took these hands, and I catapulted into freefall.”

Hitting the water broke his back, but Hines swam to the surface and was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard Station Golden Gate. While almost drowning in the water before rescue, he believes a dolphin helped keep him afloat; several witnesses confirmed this, although they mistook it for a sea lion.

Hines eventually became a motivational speaker and activist in the mental health space. But his demons aren’t gone; he’s just learned to live with them. “Even though I live with chronic suicidal thoughts,” he says, “I will never die by suicide.”

Ken Baldwin was 28, with a toddler and a wife, and severely depressed. “Every day was the same: it was the blackness, the darkness.” He felt his family would be better without him. One day in 1985, he drove to the bridge instead of work. He walked onto the span, trying to act casual, feeling fear and confusion.

And then he went over.

“I saw my hands leave the bridge,” he told the station. “I knew at that moment, that I really, really messed up. Everything could have been better, I could change things. And I was falling. I couldn’t change that.”

He had a collapsed lung, and struggled in the water before being rescued by the Coast Guard.

When he had healed, he eventually quit the job he hated and became a high school teacher, a job he loves.

In 2011, the second teenager in a matter of weeks survived a jump off the bridge, reports  EMS1. The survival rate among jumpers is two percent. By 2012, roughly 1,400 bodies had been recovered since the modern marvel opened.

As much as the Golden Gate Bridge has long been a symbol of expansion, freedom, adventure, the same aspects that have made it a beacon—its majestic span, its sweep, its view—have always cast a dark draw for some.

Joseph Strauss, the bridge’s chief engineer, read a statement at the Golden Gate’s opening ceremony in May 1937:

“As harps for the winds of heaven,

My web-like cables are spun;

I offer my span for the traffic of man,

At the gate of the setting sun.”

Three months later, the first jumper hurled himself over the rails. His body was never found.

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