State highway crews will begin work next month on a long overdue safety project on the Capitol Boulevard Bridge over Interstate 5.
In the past five years, at least four people have jumped or fallen to their deaths after plunging off the bridge onto the freeway below.
Crews from the state Department of Transportation will install a nearly 9-foot-high fence along the bridge. If the $518,000 project averts a single suicide or serious injury, it will be money well spent.
It’s unfortunate it’s taken so long to approve and award this bridge improvement project.
What’s even more unfortunate is the fact someone can descend into the depths of depression so deeply that suicide becomes an option.
By installing the wire mesh fence, DOT should eliminate a major public safety threat for both those contemplating suicide and the unsuspecting motorists passing beneath the bridge.
DOT officials are downplaying the fact that the bridge has become an attractive nuisance for people drawn to suicide.
“The whole purpose of the project is to try to keep objects, debris, things from going off Capitol Way and onto I-5,” DOT spokeswoman Lisa Copeland said.
Despite the official line, the public knows the real reason for the new fence.
Former state legislator Brendan Williams, an Olympia Democrat who left office this year after three terms, was instrumental in moving the project forward.
He said he had doubts about spending money on a fence, rather than spending the money on mental health care programs that might keep someone from turning to suicide.
However, he noted, the gasoline tax dollars used for the project aren’t eligible for filling holes in the state’s mental health care programs.
Williams is right to make the link between the costly bridge and the need for funding to work with the mentally ill.
“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,” the former legislator said. “It’s really the crisis of our lifetimes here.”
Williams’ words are sobering food for thought.