On the fence: Aurora Bridge committee continues fence-design process

Moving closer to its goal of eradicating the threat of suicide jumpers, the SR99 Aurora Bridge Fence advisory committee sat about a dozen strong on Aug. 12 at Seattle Pacific University, debating every nuance of the proposed preventative barrier.Comprised of key community figureheads and members of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the committee's goal is simple: to advise WSDOT as it moves forward in the design process. The project is currently in its first phase (the design phase) of two, with the subsequent $5.9 million construction phase still pending legislative approval. The state Legislature had approved a $1.5 million design budget for a fence on the Aurora Bridge after a record nine suicide jumps in 2006 from the 77-year-old bridge. Gov. Christine Gregoire supported the fence addition, saying it would make the bridge safer and help prevent suicides.GETTING STARTEDRepresentatives from the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, Historic Seattle, Fremont Neighborhood Council and the Queen Anne Community Council were all in attendance, with EnviroIssues senior associate Penny Mabie moderating the small gathering. The committee discussed motorist-visibility concerns, the possibility of installing an overhang to discourage climbers and the advantages of some materials over others - favoring stainless-steel wire ropes aligned vertically over rods, mesh or wire fabric. After a handful of architecture firms gathered in February to brainstorm designs, the project contract appears to be leaning in the favor of local architect David Clinkston, of Clinkston Brunner Architects on Queen Anne.Clinkston, whose name was mentioned several times by WSDOT's Paul Kinderman throughout the meeting, has worked on a number of commercial projects, including the Interurban Pedestrian Bridge in Shoreline, the King Street Commuter Rail Station and the Bremerton Transportation Center. Taking cues from similar projects around the world, a brief slideshow provided the meeting's foundation. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the existing Aurora Bridge must not be changed in the process, due to historic preservation laws. Any physical additions to the bridge cannot exceed 10 feet in height.In 2003, the Prince Edwards Viaduct in Toronto adopted the "Luminous Veil," a similar suicide barrier that has yet to see a successful attempt since its installation.Like the Aurora Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge (which has the highest number of suicide attempts, with the Aurora Bridge second) lacks a preventative structure for jumpers. Currently, a 4-foot-high rail separates the bridge from the chilly San Francisco Bay waters, some 260 feet below. UNANSWERED QUESTIONSLargely productive and without conflict, the meeting saw only a few patches of friction during its two hours. Queen Anne Community Council chairperson Ellen Monrad was visibly frustrated when a WSDOT representative admitted there is still a question over how much weight the bridge can bear. Just last month, WSDOT engineers inspected the building, but they did not come away with an exact answer. "Aren't we starting in the middle of the process?" Monrad asked. "We still don't really know much this bridge can actually support."At this stage, questions of cost overruns, weight and future maintenance responsibilities are still unanswered. However, WSDOT officials said the apparatus will be low-maintenance, using the wire-rope approach despite being a bit more expensive, at $300,000 in the current market. The thin cables reduce glare and come with a 75-year shelf life, WSDOT representatives said. A NECESSARY PROJECT?As the meeting came to a close, the committee opened up the discussion for public comment. A pair of students expressed serious concern over the project's relevancy, with an average of four or five jumpers per year off the Aurora Bridge."Why are [we] spending millions of dollars on a project that affects just four people a year?" said a woman who only identified herself as an engineering student. The monologue was greeted with silence from the committee, who suggested the two contact their legislative representatives with their concerns. With the 2009 Legislative session the decisive factor, the project is slated to begin construction in early 2010 after the contract is awarded in October 2009.For more information, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR99/AuroraBridgeFence.UPCOMING AURORA BRIDGE FENCE ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETINGSSept. 9 and 30; Oct. 21, 6-8 p.m.Seattle Pacific University, 3307 Third Ave. W.Otto Miller Hall, Room 109[[In-content Ad]]