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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 10:02 am | Fair 54º


Ruling Allows Construction to Resume on Cold Spring Canyon Bridge Suicide Barrier

Judge finds that Caltrans adequately addressed visual and other impacts of the project by republishing documents and allowing more public comment

A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that Caltrans can immediately resume construction of the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge suicide barrier.

Caltrans was sued by citizen group Friends of the Bridge, which objected to the agency’s project approval process and final design, which will be 9 feet 7 inches tall and curve inward at the top. It will obstruct views from both sides of the bridge, which is about 400 feet above the ground on Highway 154 near San Marcos Pass.

Judge Thomas Anderle ruled Tuesday that Caltrans’ choice of the fencelike barrier was appropriate.

Last July, Anderle found Caltrans partially incompliant with the California Environmental Quality Act and subsequently ordered the agency to stop construction while it put the project through additional public review for alternative designs.

He also found that Caltrans hadn’t discussed mitigation measures for the visual, historical and other impacts to the bridge, which were addressed by republishing portions of the draft environmental impact report and allowing more public comment.

Friends of the Bridge pushed for the safety net alternative, which has been implemented on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, but Caltrans said it wasn’t feasible because of the bridge’s remote location. According to Caltrans’ documents, suicidal people could jump into the netting and jump off the edge of it, there would be more risks to rescue responders and maintenance personnel, and the net could lure thrill-seekers.

The ruling states that the impact of a person getting caught in the net would deform it and require replacement, and emergency personnel would have to rappel into the net and hoist potentially violent people onto the bridge’s deck.

The objectives with the project are to reduce the number of suicides from the bridge — 54 as of late 2010 — and reduce risks to first responders when trying to prevent a suicide or recover a body.

“We always said we’d see this project to completion,” Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers said. “The entire environment on that bridge will be safer and much improved.”

Colin Jones, also with Caltrans, said the agency expects to start construction again in summer, though a time line hasn’t been finalized. So far, holes for fence posts have been drilled on the west side, the only part of construction completed before the judge put the project on hold.

The county Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the California Highway Patrol and the Glendon Association all publicly support the project.

Marc Chytilo, attorney for Friends of the Bridge, said the group will “look carefully at what the options are” and expressed disappointment that the safety net alternative was unilaterally dismissed as a viable alternative.

“It seems pretty clear Caltrans is ready to approve this project pretty much no matter what; that’s unfortunate,” he told Noozhawk.

Before the court, he argued that the reasons Caltrans gave for dismissing the safety net were all overcome for the Golden Gate Bridge and that it would be equally if not more effective in deterring suicides as a tall fence barrier.

The estimated cost of the project is about $3 million, including federal stimulus funds and State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) funds, Shivers has said. Construction costs are estimated at $778,000, and the rest consists of administrative costs. Extra legal costs and delay of construction will add to the total, but officials weren’t sure how much.

“People have underestimated the impact of the fencing cages on the scenic bridge,” Chytilo said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “We did our best for five years to help Caltrans, SBCAG and the sheriff to come up with a balanced project, but unfortunately these agencies remain committed to the vertical barriers.”

Caltrans was also ordered to pay $125,000 in legal fees to Chytilo. He said he hasn’t received the check yet.

Click here to read Noozhawk’s series on the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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