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August 1, 2014

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Officials OK funding for Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier

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Eric Risberg / AP

Two surfers ride a wave near Fort Point below the Golden Gate Bridge in this May 3, 2014, file photo in San Francisco.

Updated Friday, June 27, 2014 | 12:13 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden Gate Bridge moved a big step closer to getting a suicide barrier after bridge officials on Friday approved a $76 million funding package for a net system that would prevent people from jumping to their deaths.

The bridge district's board of directors voted unanimously in favor of the funding package, which includes $20 million in bridge toll revenue. Federal money will provide the bulk of the remaining funding, though the state is also pledging $7 million.

A tearful Dan Barks, of Napa, who lost his son, Donovan, to suicide on the bridge in 2008, said after the vote that he was almost speechless.

"A lot of people have done so much incredible work to get this accomplished," he said.

At least some of the money still requires additional approval. The bridge's board, however, has now taken its final step in adopting the net.

"The tragedy of today is that we can't go back in time, we can't save ... the people who jumped off the bridge. But the good thing, with this vote today, we can vote in their memory," board member Janet Reilly said. "We will save many lives who have followed in their footsteps and that's what so extraordinary about today."

The Golden Gate Bridge, with its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, has long been a destination for people seeking to end their lives. Since it opened in 1937, more than 1,400 people have plunged to their deaths, including a record 46 suicides last year, officials said.

Officials have been discussing a suicide barrier on the bridge for decades. The bridge's board voted in 2008 to install a stainless steel net, rejecting other options, including raising the 4-foot-high railings and leaving the iconic span unchanged. Two years later, they certified the final environmental impact report for the net, which would stretch about 20 feet wide on each side of the span. Officials say it will not mar the landmark bridge's appearance.

But funding for the project remained a major obstacle.

A significant hurdle was overcome two years ago when President Barack Obama signed into law a bill making safety barriers and nets eligible for federal funds.

Most jumpers suffer a grisly death, with massive internal injuries, broken bones and skull fractures. Some die from internal bleeding. Others drown.

Kevin Hines miraculously survived his suicide attempt after jumping off the structure in 2000 at age 19. During a news conference Thursday, Hines said he felt "instant regret" when he jumped and believes a net will deter suicidal people.

"Not one more soul, not one more soul will be lost to that bridge," said Hines, 32.

John Brooks, whose 17-year-old daughter, Casey, jumped from the rust-colored span in 2008, said before the vote he can't say for sure that his daughter would be alive today if there had been a net on the bridge, but he also feels it is an important suicide deterrent.

"Oftentimes it's the Golden Gate Bridge or nothing," he said.

Bidding on the job is expected to start next year, with completion of construction expected in 2018.

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