Traffic makes its way across the Eighth Street bridge over Valley Creek in Port Angeles after construction crews switched westbound traffic to the opposite lane Friday to accommodate work to replace the bridge railings. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Traffic makes its way across the Eighth Street bridge over Valley Creek in Port Angeles after construction crews switched westbound traffic to the opposite lane Friday to accommodate work to replace the bridge railings. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Higher fence to go up soon: Port Angeles suicide barrier to be ‘very difficult to climb’

PORT ANGELES — Workers will begin stretching new suicide-barrier fencing along the Eighth Street bridges by the end of this week, the project manager said.

Jonathan Boehme, a city of Port Angeles civil engineer, said Friday that the chain-link fence will be vinyl-coated with support bars on the outside of the barrier and metal spikes on top to deter birds.

“Mainly, it’s a much higher fence than before, and it would be very difficult to climb,” Boehme said.

“Hopefully, a person would not get up there, and if they did, it would be difficult to get over the spiking nature of the bird spikes.”

Crews are now doing preparatory work.

On Friday afternoon, the one-lane westbound bridge traffic over South Valley Street and the Tumwater Truck Route switched from the north side to the south side lane, blocking the north side lane on the 100-foot-tall spans so work could begin there.

“This may give you the feeling that you’re traveling abroad (driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road) while you cross the bridges,” the city said on its website at www.cityofpa.us.

Sidewalks on the southern side of the bridges are open to pedestrians, along with the bike lanes for bicyclists, while the northern sidewalks and bike lanes are closed. Businesses between the bridges remain open.

Detours remain in place for eastbound traffic.

When the $771,000 project is completed by Sept. 14, the barriers, including the new fence atop the existing 32-inch concrete obstruction, will vary from 8 feet, 8 inches high to 10 feet, 7 inches high from the sidewalk to the top of the fence, Boehme said.

The top will have a wavy, undulating edge to represent the Olympic Mountains.

Eight people have died at the bridges since the spans were replaced and reopened in February 2009 with 4-foot, 6-inch barriers that were lower than those on the old bridges. A railing on the existing barriers will be removed.

A 5-foot, 7-inch railing was considered when the new bridges were built, but the option was rejected because of the cost, which would not have been covered by state funding.

After first balking at construction of suicide barriers in December 2014 following the third suicide — a 21-year-old woman — the City Council approved them in April.

By April, five more had died by suicide at the bridges, including four over nine months between June 2017 and March.

Boehme said from a traffic-impact perspective, analysis showed that having vehicles in the westbound lane has less impact on traffic than an eastbound-only flow.

The project is on time and on budget, Boehme said.

City Council member and former Mayor Cherie Kidd, who helped lead the effort for higher fencing, announced at a July 17 council meeting that a community “block party” is planned for Sept. 19 to dedicate the full reopening of the spans.

The fence is being installed by Interwest Construction of Sequim.

Funding includes $350,000 from the state $124,000 in pledges and donations from community members and businesses.

“I think that it really needs to be underlined that the citizens generating $124,000 is really big,” City Council member Mike French said at the April 3 council meeting.

“And the fact that that happened was a huge selling point, I know, for the people who were active to get the state on board,” he said.

We still have a community in which the needs for behavioral health far outstrip our resources.

“That’s the next step.”

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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