Foresthill Bridge raised railing now up. But is it high enough?

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Sacramento?s Scott Tremeling arrived at the top of the Foresthill Bridge on Friday with his own freshly vivid, nightmarish memory. A month ago, Tremeling was on the Clementine Trail. He described how he was passing under the bridge when a man jumped. ?We didn?t see it but we heard the sound when he landed,? Tremeling said. ?We were 100 feet away but it was very loud.? Tremeling returned again Friday to run the Clementine Trail from the confluence. But, having not been forewarned about the new $10 parking fee, he drove to the pullout on the eastern side of the bridge to prepare for a run down into a canyon and then to the North Fork Dry Dam and back ? a distance of about five miles. At the bridge ? which rises 730 feet above the canyon and is the highest in California ? Tremeling paused to reflect on the newly installed railing ? two feet taller than the original railing. He wondered if it would be enough to prevent the continuing rise of the death toll at the bridge. On June 6, Tremeling was running on the trail as a 26-year-old man from Dobbins in Yuba County jumped. Tremeling was spared a second shock that day. He had left by the time a second fatal leap ? this time a 35-year-old Auburn woman ? took place less than two hours after the first. ?I?m all for raising the railing (it?s now at 6½ feet) but I also realize the inevitability of people trying to jump,? Tremeling said. ?I hope it will discourage it but I look at what they?ve put up and I wonder if they could have made it taller or have it bent in at the top.? Rachael Schmitt of Roseville could compare the two railing heights on Friday as she visited the bridge. On the northeastern side, the railing is the original 4½ feet and workers have recently taken down a temporary chain-link fence that had raised it to 6½ feet. The presence of the higher fence, however, was not a hindrance to four people who jumped to their deaths last year and three more this year, bringing the number of fatal plunges off the bridge to 64 during the span?s 39-year history. The unofficial count combines Journal and sheriff?s records. On the south side, which provides a more expansive view of the American River canyon and confluence of the North and Middle forks of the American River, contractor Golden State Bridge has completed construction of the 6½-foot railing. That side of the bridge remains off-limits to the public because of continuing construction on a $74.7-million seismic retrofit and repainting project. With the increase in height, all but the tallest visitors will have to peer through metal bars rather than view the canyon over the old railing. Schmitt said she can live with the obscured view. ?I?d rather not have a view and not have people jump,? Schmitt said. ?I can get a view other places.? Placer County Public Works Director Ken Grehm said that railings were raised to 6½ feet because of Caltrans? needs. The state transportation?s bridge-testing equipment for structural safety includes a ?snooper? truck that extends a camera arm over the railing but can?t reach beyond the 6½-foot height, he said. The county, which owns the bridge, looked at options as high as eight feet. Protect American River Canyons has lobbied for an inward curve to help halt suicidal plunges. Grehm said that while the retrofit funding didn?t include a budget for safety improvements like a suicide barrier, the hope is that the higher railing will help prevent suicides and deter people from throwing objects off the bridge. And Grehm isn?t discounting the possibility of one day providing added safety features that could include an inward curve on the railing at a greater height. For now, people can walk a stretch of bridge with the original railing and observe the other side, with the higher railing now in place. ?Who knows what the future will hold,? Grehm said. ?It?s better than what we have now. But if it is revisited, there is still the question of Caltrans and its equipment.? The south side of the bridge should be open again for pedestrians in 2013 as Golden State shifts lanes to accommodate work on the north side, Grehm said. The total project is due for completion in 2014.