Raised guard rail on Foresthill Bridge getting closer to reality

Another suicide shocks onlookers over the weekend on state’s highest span
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The Foresthill Bridge was the scene of another suicide over the weekend. By the Journal’s count, an estimated 58 people have now fallen to their deaths from the 730-foot-high span above the north fork of the American River near Auburn. But some potential help is no the way, with bids now in on a rehabilitation project on the 36-year-old bridge that includes raising guardrails next to pedestrian walkways from 4 feet high to 6½ feet. Placer County recently opened five bids on the seismic retrofit and repainting project. The lowest bid came in at about $58 million. Ken Grehm, county public works director, said Monday that Golden State Bridge of San Francisco was the low bidder. If its figures check out, it could be awarded the rehab contract at a Board of Supervisors meeting Dec. 15. A teenager jumped Saturday afternoon from the bridge into the canyon below. The incident was witnessed by several people out walking in the Auburn State Recreation Area in the warmth of a 70-degree-plus day. San Francisco resident William Hilow said he and a friend were walking along the Clementine Trail skirting the ridge above the canyon when they spotted emergency personnel and learned that a man had jumped from the Foresthill Bridge. Hilow said the two had a camera with them and as they proceeded past the place where the yet-to-be-covered body of the jumper was lying, both were left in a state of shock. “We took some photos at the dam but I couldn’t smile,” Hilow said. “We were despondent.” The Placer County Sheriff’s Office declined to identify the victim by name, citing a policy against identifying suicide victims. But Lt. Mark Reed did say the man was 19. No hometown for the victim was available. Because of the number of deaths, the bridge has been fitted for the last decade with solar-powered phones that link potential jumpers with a suicide hotline. The guardrail along the bridge was initially planned to be raised 8 feet as a safety measure but Caltrans asked for a lower height to allow its mobile bridge inspection equipment to continue to be used. The video camera on the inspection truck can swing over the railing and provide views of the outside of the span. Grehm said bridge construction work could begin immediately after a bid is awarded but major work is expected to start in the spring. The low bid continues a trend that has resulted in several public works projects coming in below engineers’ estimates. The initial estimate on the project was $72 million. The victim was found near the water’s edge in a very steep area of the canyon. Craig said an estimate on the cost to recover the body by the California Highway Patrol helicopter was not available. Hilow said he lives near the Golden Gate Bridge, the scene of more than 1,000 jumping deaths since the mid-1930s. “It’s a shame they can’t get some help,” he said. “Morally, I think it’s wrong but they’re so tortured, it’s probably a relief for them.”