The Cold Spring Canyon Bridge suicide barrier was completed this week, ending years of controversy and passionate argument on both sides with a result heralded by public safety and mental health officials.
Spanning 1,148 feet over a canyon on Highway 154, the steel arch bridge is the largest of its kind in California and treats drivers to stunning views of the Santa Ynez Valley.
Tragically, 55 people have taken their lives from that bridge since it was built in 1964, including eight deaths in 2009.
The project faced CEQA-related civil challenges from the citizens group Friends of the Bridge, which contested Caltrans’ public review process and barrier design. Although the challenge delayed the project for at least a year, a Superior Court judge ruled in Caltrans’ favor and construction began Jan. 17.
No more lane closures are scheduled, and the bridge is open to motorists driving over San Marcos Pass.
The full cost is $3.2 million, including the $125,000 paid to Friends of the Bridge attorney Marc Chytilo, according to Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers.
The Sheriff’s Department estimates it dispatched deputies to about 160 incidents on the bridge between 2001 and 2009, and officials say that any call that puts responders on the bridge at all is potentially dangerous.
While the barrier does nothing to take away the underlying feelings of distressed people, it reduces loss of life since it takes away a lethal method of suicide and can let people press the pause button to get help, according to the Glendon Association’s Dr. Lisa Firestone.
She said she drives over the bridge twice a day for her commute to work, as many do, and is thrilled the barrier is finally done. She added that it reduces psychological damage to innocent bystanders and first responders as well, since they have often intervened and tried to save a life.
Making the community safer means increasing local resources, too, and the Santa Barbara Response Network, a psychological first aid team, formed in late 2009 in response to many local suicides among young people. The group offers preventive care and immediate support after traumas such as attempted suicides, violent injuries or deaths, and Firestone said additional resources like this are what the community needs.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, overall suicide risk factors include:
» Depression, mental disorder or substance-abuse disorder. More than 90 percent who die by suicide have these risk factors.
» Family history of suicide
» Family history of mental disorders
» Family violence such as physical or sexual abuse
For children and adolescents, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry lists these warning signs:
» Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
» Neglecting personal appearance
» Frequent physical complaints, stomach aches, headaches
» Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, sports, games
If you or a loved one need help, call 2-1-1 for free, confidential information, referral, crisis intervention and suicide prevention from 2-1-1 Santa Barbara County, a program of the Family Service Agency.
Other free, 24-hour Santa Barbara County services are CARES/ACCESS at 1.888.868.1649 or the SAFTY (Safe Alternatives for Treating Youth) Mobile Crisis Team Hotline at 1.888.334.2777.
» The Glendon Association, 5383 Hollister Ave., Suite 140; 805.681.0415. The nonprofit organization describes its mission as addressing social problems of suicide, child abuse, violence and troubled interpersonal relationships to enhance mental health and save lives.
» The free. 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1.800.273.8255.