Hoover Dam bridge attracting suicidal jumpers

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:23 PM


LAS VEGAS - Nevada Department of Transportation officials are considering ways to curb suicides at the Hoover Dam bypass bridge after the fourth person plunged from the bridge walkway to the Colorado River.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Friday that the federal Bureau of Reclamation plans install a dozen call boxes on the 900-foot-high bridge, using funds from a Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act grant.

Nevada Department of Transportation officials are expected to discuss the suicides during upcoming meetings in August and September. Netting, a fence or a more restrictive railing are among the possible options.

"We are constantly monitoring the situation," said Damon Hodge, spokesman for the department. "Whatever we propose, the Federal Highway Administration would have to approve it."

Four suicides have been reported since the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened in 2010, including two people this month who climbed the 4-foot-6-inch concrete-and-metal railing. The span carries U.S. 93 traffic between Nevada and Arizona.

In San Francisco, 1,558 people have committed suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge since it opened in 1937.

Dr. Richard Seiden, professor emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley, warns that the Hoover Dam bypass bridge has a potential to join other places with frequent suicides, such as the Golden Gate.

"They (landmarks) develop a reputation of their own. You can be certain it will get worse before it gets better," Seiden said. "That’s what’s going to happen unless steps are taken."

The bridge, the longest single-span concrete arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere, has become a popular tourist attraction. There were no suicides the first year it opened.

Seiden suggests putting 8-foot concrete columns close together to help prevent people from squeezing through the spaces, while keeping the view of the Hoover Dam unobstructed.

San Francisco officials agreed to install a safety net below the 4-foot railing of the Golden Gate Bridge in 2008, but the cost is estimated to be about $45 million to cover the span of 9,000 feet.

The span of the Hoover Dam bypass bridge is 1,900 feet.

At Florida’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which carries Tampa Bay traffic on Interstate 275, 120 people have committed suicide since 1987. State officials have tried to address the problem with 24-hour patrols, surveillance cameras and crisis hot line phones.

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