Bridge barriers discussed: April earliest date for safety barriers on Eighth Street spans

PORT ANGELES —Safety barriers could be installed on both sides at the highest point of the two Eighth Street bridges as early as April, Port Angeles Public Works Director Craig Fulton has estimated.

A combination of a chain-link fence and wire mesh “vertical architectural screening” would likely be finished in July or August, Fulton told the Port Angeles City Council on Tuesday night.

A chain-link fence that curves inward to help prevent people from jumping to their deaths from the twin spans would be raised “two to three months” sooner, Fulton said.

“If you go with the curved chain link, designs are already done,” Fulton said.

“[Bid] solicitation stays the same. The award’s the same. But your procurement is probably quicker because it’s easier to manufacture.”

The City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to direct staff to prepare design concepts for permanent safety barriers for the Eighth Street bridges.

The approved long-term solutions are a curved chain-link fence and “blended screening,” a combination of chain-link fence and wire mesh walls.

The council also directed staff to develop a maintenance plan and financial analysis for the estimated $1 million chain-link option and $1.7 million blended barrier.

Seven people have jumped to their deaths from the 100-foot-tall bridges above the Tumwater and Valley creeks since they were built as replacement spans in 2009 with 4-foot, 6-inch railings.

The council agreed to install permanent safety barriers on both sides of the sidewalks at the highest points of the 3,000-foot-long bridges as a immediate solution.

After the initial barriers are raised, the screenings will be extended on the rest of the span as more funding becomes available.

“I do appreciate having a short-term solution that grows into the long-term solution so that there’s no wasted funds,” Councilwoman Sissi Bruch said.

Monte Smith, a consultant with Olympia-based Sargent Engineers, Inc., will help city staff develop the design concepts. The concepts will be discussed at the Jan. 16 council meeting.

“I don’t think visual appeal is that critical,” Councilman Brad Collins said in a four-hour meeting Tuesday.

“I think safety is the more critical issue.”

The City Council will consist of four new members next month as Kate Dexter, Mike French, Jim Moran and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin replace Collins, Dan Gase, Lee Whetham and Mayor Patrick Downie.

“Let’s let the next council decide this,” Whetham said.

“If we rush to judgment tonight, we’re going to make some bad decisions,” Downie added. “This inevitably goes into 2018.”

In a wide-ranging discussion Tuesday, the current council eliminated as a permanent option an estimated $2.1 million custom-made vertical architectural screening for the Eighth Street bridges.

“We don’t need a custom-built fence,” Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd said.

“We need a safety fence.”

The council also nixed the idea of installing a $1 million safety net under the bridge for practical reasons like technical rescues and maintenance.

Council members have been flooded with public testimony calling for safety barriers since 15-year-old Ashley Ann Wishart jumped to her death from the Valley Creek bridge Nov. 13.

As of Tuesday night, the city had received more than $112,000 in donations and pledges for the safety project.

“The community has stepped up in a way that’s been pretty incredible in this,” City Manager Dan McKeen told the council.

“I believe that is going to help us leverage state funding.”

As a temporary solution, Kidd suggested that the council consider a $240,000 construction fence drilled into the existing concrete parapet barrier on both sides of the bridges.

“The community is really demanding that we take action for safety on the bridges,” Kidd said.

“I think it’s our responsibility to make the bridges safe as quickly as possible.”

Fulton said it would take several months to complete the state-mandated bidding process and raise the temporary barrier.

“I am personally in favor of option 1 and moving forward and getting this stuff ordered and moving along,” Councilman Michael Merideth said of a permanent chain-link fence.

“I’m not in favor of $240,000 for essentially a construction fence and putting slats in it.”

Other council members agreed that a permanent fence would be the most cost-effective option.

Kidd, a longtime advocate for taller bridge barriers, has been working with state Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, on safety barrier funding.

McKeen said that he and Kidd met with Chapman before the most recent suicide.

“He made it very clear that we would have to put some skin in the game [and] provide some matching funding,” McKeen said.

The city has about $4.9 million in available reserves, meeting a council mandate of 25 percent of the general fund budget.

“We’ve worked so hard to get those reserves and that financial policy in place,” Collins said.

Rather than spend reserves, Collins suggested that the next council delay an approved capital project — perhaps the $895,000 repaving of West 10th Street — to fund the bridge barriers.

“I happen to use 10th Street every day,” Collins said.

“I don’t want to delay 10th Street, but I do want to make the bridges safe. And I don’t think we have to violate our financial policies to do that.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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