Fence project targets I-5 suicides

Safety: Construction on $518,000 barrier will begin in March

January 31, 2011 

OLYMPIA - Starting in March, crews will install a nearly 9-foot fence along the Capitol Boulevard Bridge over Interstate 5, where at least four people have jumped or fallen to their deaths in the past five years.

The $518,000 project by the state Department of Transportation is part of a statewide initiative to retrofit bridges, spokeswoman Lisa Copeland said. The state recently awarded the job, expected to take four months, to Cascade Bridge LLC of Vancouver, Wash.

Workers will rebuild part of the sidewalk so the bridge deck can support the new fencing, she said.

“The whole purpose of the project is to try to keep objects, debris, things from going off Capitol Way and onto I-5,” she said. “At almost 9 feet tall, that will make it almost impossible to do.”

The state Transportation Department isn’t emphasizing the recent suicides as a reason for the work. But former state Rep. Brendan Williams said he lobbied for the improvements to prevent suicides there.

“It manages to avoid what could be characterized as an attractive nuisance, to use a legal term, for those who are suffering from depression … considering suicide,” he said.

Williams, who left the Legislature this month after three terms, said he became concerned about makeshift suicide memorials on the bridge about two years ago. He asked the Transportation Department to take them down, concerned that they were glamorizing suicide.

“I understand how people want to memorialize those persons that they lost, but I don’t think any value is added, really, by remembering a person at the site of the worst moment in their life,” he said.

He acknowledged that he’s had doubts about adding to a bridge rather than spending the money on mental health care. But he said gasoline tax dollars, which could be used to retrofit a bridge, couldn’t be spent on such things.

The work also is about the safety of people below the bridge, he said. He also emphasized the need to protect social service funding.

“I just hope that we … people in seeing this construction do think about all the unmet mental health care needs in the community at a time when so many programs … are struggling for funds,” he said. “It’s really the crisis of our lifetimes here.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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