PORT ANGELES — An Olympia engineering firm is working on options and costs for temporary suicide fences or other barriers for the Eighth Street bridges that Public Works Director Craig Fulton said Tuesday could lead to installation well before mid-2018.
“It hopefully should be long before that,” Fulton said.
Seven people have jumped to their deaths from the 100-foot tall Tumwater Truck Route and Valley Creek bridges since they were built as replacement spans in 2009 with 4-foot, 6-inch railings — including three people since June, the last of whom was 15-year-old Ashley Ann Wishart on Nov. 13.
The City Council agreed by consensus Nov. 21 that “yes, we are going to have safety barriers,” Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd said Tuesday.
Council members voted to add the barriers to the capital facilities plan, to direct staff to evaluate short- and long-term options and to collect funding from the public to help pay for the measures.
“We need to implement short-term solutions right after our next meeting,” Kidd said Tuesday.
The next council meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5 at City Hall.
Fulton said Tuesday he did not know if the barrier-option analysis being conducted by Sargent Engineers Inc. would be completed by then.
“They are looking at the as-built drawings, how it was built,” he said.
“They will be looking at how fencing or any other protection could be attached to the bridge.
“They will be looking at all the structural needs to go on to attach anything to that bridge to ensure it’s safe.”
Fulton said it’s difficult at this juncture to estimate the cost of the project.
“It all depends on what options are brought forward, the complexity of the options and what materials will be required,” Fulton said.
“Those will all need to be presented at the council meeting.
“If it’s under $25,000, the city manager [Dan McKeen] has the authority to sign it, but I’m sure the council would like to discuss it.
“A certain amount of reserves are available.
“That will be a decision for the council.”
Fulton has estimated that a permanent barrier, such as fencing, would cost $800,000 to $1.2 million.
Tess Agesson, interim city finance director, said the city has $4.9 million in reserves budgeted for 2018 — enough to run city government for 2½ months.
That’s the council-mandated 25-percent-of-budget set aside that can be spent only if the council declares an emergency or votes to lower the set-aside threshold.
The city also could borrow money to pay for permanent barriers from a city fund such as the electric fund and loan it to the general fund, or could ask for voter approval for a levy or bond, although the council “has been pretty adamant about not going into debt,” Agesson said.
Real estate excise tax funds (REET) also are available.
While REET funds are not enough to cover the estimated cost of about $1 million to build permanent barriers, they could be used as a match for a grant, Agesson said.
“At this point, we are leaning to the grant option, and Cherie Kidd is working with [state Rep.] Mike Chapman on that,” she said.
“It doesn’t impact our reserves and allows us to not use existing funds and allows us to get [the permanent barriers] built.”
“Meanwhile, we are going to put temporary fences up.”
Funding for the temporary solution will come out of the operating budget, Agesson said.
She said installation of temporary barriers for $25,000 “seems like a reasonable amount, whether we lease or buy, but until we get a bid, everything is up in the air.”
Fulton said the barriers could be the chain-link construction fencing similar to the fences that were installed as suicide barriers in 1959 on the bridges that were replaced in 2009.
The old barriers were 7-feet, 8-inches tall, 3 feet, 2 inches taller than the railings on the new spans.
“If it’s construction fencing, as opposed to buying 3,000 feet of construction fencing, the best option is to rent it,” Fulton said.
“Netting might be an option, or some kind of poles.
“It comes down to the complexity of installing it, whether the bridge can accept any attachments, and then the timeliness of it.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.