PORT ANGELES — Permanent safety barriers will be installed on the Eighth Street bridges by mid-September, city officials said.
The Port Angeles City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to design and build a $1.4 million vertical chain link fence with a curved top to help prevent suicides on the 100-foot-tall spans.
Seven people have jumped to their deaths from the twin bridges since they reopened in 2009 with 4-foot-6-inch railings.
The new barriers will be a minimum of 8-feet-8-inches above the sidewalks. They will be supported by aluminum posts, which don’t need to be replaced as often as steel supports do, to lower the costs over the spans’ expected 65-year life cycle from an estimated $3.8 million to $2.2 million.
The permanent fencing will be installed on the outside of the existing 32-inch concrete barrier. The idea is to discourage more people from hopping over the barrier and 22-inch aluminum railing and falling to their death in the Tumwater or Valley Creek ravine.
“We as a community are not going to be able to stop every suicide by taking away this easy option,” first-year Councilman Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We need to work on the hard things, too. We need to work on mental health issues. We need to work on the bullying and abuse issues.
“That’s going to take a lot more work as a whole community,” Schromen-Wawrin added.
“So hopefully this is the beginning of a process, not the end.”
City officials said it would take six to eight months to design the safety barriers, award a bid, procure the materials and construct the fencing.
As part of its unanimous vote, the council directed staff to sign a professional services agreement with Olympia-based Sargent Engineers design the barriers and prepare the bid documents.
City Engineer Teresa Reed-Jennings said the selected option is both difficult to climb and visually appealing.
“It’s meant to resemble our mountains,” Reed-Jennings said of the curved top.
The concept was inspired by a photograph of a bridge in California that was sent to the city by a Port Angeles resident, Reed-Jennings said.
“I don’t have that person’s name, but kudos to you,” she said.
Last year’s council was flooded with public testimony from citizens demanding higher barriers after 15-year-old Ashley Wishart jumped to her death from the Valley Creek bridge on Nov. 13.
The council responded by adding permanent barriers to the city’s capital facilities and transporation plans and directed staff to develop a series of options.
“We’ve been going at this for a while now,” Reed-Jennings told the council, which added four new members Jan. 2.
“We had a lot of input from the community.”
The council decided to focus on permanent barriers rather than raise temporary construction fencing because of the $240,000 cost of short-term measure, the liability it would create and the four-month installation time, city officials said.
“We hoped to put up construction fencing immediately and that created extra liabilities,” third-term Councilwoman Cherie Kidd said.
“I think the staff has worked overtime on bringing us really good [permanent] options.”
To fund the $1.4 million project, the city will use $442,000 in real estate excise taxes, $434,000 in general funds and defer $50,000 in capital spending.
“We are not proposing to take any money out of reserves to do this,” City Manager Dan McKeen told the council.
As of Tuesday, the city has received an additional $124,000 from donations and pledges.
“A big part of it is coming from the community,” McKeen said.
City officials hope to bridge the $3.5 million gap through state legislators’ efforts to secure state transportation funds for the project.
Kidd has been working with Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and other legislators to obtain highway funds because the Tumwater Truck Route is a state highway.
The City Council approved Kidd’s motion to draft a letter of support to the state Legislature and Department of Transportation in support of bridge fencing.
State fund request
In a Wednesday email to the Peninsula Daily News, Chapman said he and his colleagues from the 24th District had co-sponsored a budget proviso seeking $350,000 for the Eighth Street bridges.
“The community of Port Angeles has come together in both grief and commitment to actively voice a need for improved safety measures on the bridges,” Chapman said in a budget request co-signed by state Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim.
“Preventing future suicides and injuries is something the community, and we, feel cannot wait.”
Kidd noted that the Legislature is working with limited funds this session.
“The fact that they’re really going to bat for us is critical,” Kidd told the council, “and we need to do everything possible to work together as quickly as possible.”
The 24th District covers the North Olympic Peninsula and part of Grays Harbor County.
After Wishart’s death, the city received a $100,000 pledge to help fund barriers on the Eighth Street bridges.
Kidd announced Tuesday that First Federal had agreed to contribute $10,000 to the cause.
“They’re happy to partner with us on this important community issue,” Kidd said.
Donations for the Eighth Street bridge project can be made at the city cashier’s desk.
“So many members of the community have stepped up and made contributions in varying amounts,” Kidd said.
“I feel the community support here is just tremendous. I’m really happy that we’re working towards a solution together.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].