SAN FRANCISCO - Work officially began today on a net under the Golden Gate Bridge intended to prevent and deter the dozens of suicides that take place at the iconic landmark each year.
The stainless steel net, located about 20 feet below the bridge's sidewalk, will span 1.7 miles of roadway on each side of the bridge and extend 20 feet out over the water.
It will be built over a period of four years, at a cost of just over $200 million drawn from a mix of federal, state and local sources.
At a ceremony today to mark the start of the project, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that during the long process of obtaining the funding for the project, people would ask her, "isn't that a lot of money for a net?"
"And we would say no, it's not a lot of money for a life, for all of these lives," Pelosi said.
"Together we are acting on a deep moral imperative to save lives wherever we can," Pelosi said.
The scenic bridge has proven to have a deadly allure over the years, with 39 people dying by suicide there in 2016 alone and bridge patrol officers conducting 184 successful interventions that year to keep people from harming themselves. More than 1,500 people are thought to have died there over the bridge's 80-year lifespan.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor, shared her own personal experience with a Golden Gate Bridge suicide, when radio talk show host and political activist Duane Garrett, who had worked on her campaigns, took his own life there in 1995.
"For many years, I had to wonder why," Feinstein said. "And there are many families here today that have had to wonder why."
Despite the many deaths, the families of suicide victims have had a long, hard battle of many years, first to win support for a suicide barrier of some sort and then to see it funded. Local officials scrambled to assemble
the last piece of funding in December 2016, after bids came in at least $120 million over original estimates.
Kymberlyrenee Gamboa, who lost her 18-year-old son Kyle to suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2013, today said his death had led her and her husband on a journey to determine what could have led to his death and how others like it could be prevented.
"Today marks the beginning of the end of suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge," Gamboa said. "Soon no family will experience the tragedy of a suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge."
Dana Bark's son Donovan committed suicide on the bridge nine years ago.
"It's one of the most bone-crushing, soul-crushing, mind-numbing experiences that any parent could ever have to go through," said Barks, of Napa.
Barks and other families who've lost loved ones to suicide off the bridge pushed for a suicide barrier, which is now being called the Suicide Deterrent System.
"It's a symbol of how much we care of how much we care for our loved ones but not only that, the other people who are going to continue to jump every days until this is done." said Barks.
Barks and other families knelt by a flower bed near the toll plaza to plant flowers in in memory of those lost to suicide at the bridge.
Barks doesn't know why his son chose to end his life here, but he hopes the new barrier will stop others from doing the same.
Work crews will begin installing temporary fencing along the bridge approaches and around the tower legs in May, with installation set to follow in mid-2018.
A Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health review found that, overall, nine out of 10 people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date.
Similarly, a 1978 study conducted at the Golden Gate Bridge showed that 90 percent of those who were prevented from jumping did not later die by suicide or other violent means.