Friday, March 23 , 2018, 4:31 am | A Few Clouds 48º


Local News

Cold Spring Canyon Bridge Barrier Construction Precedes Court Ruling

Permanent changes to structure await resolution of civil suit filed against project

Don’t let the construction crews fool you. The installation of a suicide-prevention barrier on the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge is still under litigation.

Friends of the Bridge, a group of citizens concerned with the barrier project’s process and its impacts on the bridge, filed a California Environmental Quality Act suit against Caltrans that must be resolved before any irreversible changes can be made to the structure underneath Highway 154 just north of San Marcos Pass.

The Cold Spring Canyon Bridge — and its history and future — was the subject of a four-day Noozhawk investigative series in early May. Click here for the articles.

Caltrans contracted with Pleasanton-based Bugler Construction for the grid mesh barrier, which is expected to be completed by September if uninterrupted by the civil suit.

On Monday, crews began drilling holes into the bridge’s cement roadway for the barrier. The drilling is estimated to take two or three weeks, but the project can go no further until the July 13 hearing in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

That hearing before Judge Thomas Anderle will decide the case’s merits. Friends of the Bridge is seeking an injunction against the project, citing CEQA violations such as errors in the public review, funding and environmental impact report processes, attorney Marc Chytilo wrote in the case’s opening brief.

For its part, Caltrans denied all allegations and asked that the proceedings be dismissed. Caltrans’ response also asked that Friends of the Bridge take nothing from the lawsuit and instead compensate Caltrans for its legal costs and any other relief the court deems appropriate.

If Anderle rules in Caltrans’ favor, fabricated barrier mesh panels will be installed about five weeks after the drilling is complete.

Meanwhile, back at the bridge, one-way reversing traffic control will be used on the span from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays while crews are drilling. Bicyclists and pedestrians will be detoured away from the bridge, according to Caltrans. Motorists will encounter traffic delays on Highway 154, and there is additional striping and marking work as part of an unrelated project extending from the bridge to the east junction of Highway 101. That work is being conducted from 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night through Thursday.

Beyond the lawsuit, the issue of suicide-prevention barriers has caused passionate support and opposition in Santa Barbara County.

“The project evokes strong emotions and deep-seated opinions concerning the appropriateness of erecting a physical barrier on this historic bridge to address the tragic social phenomenon of suicide,” the Friends of the Bridge brief states. “These issues are not the subject of this litigation.”

In preparation for the installation of a suicide-prevention barrier along the sides of Cold Spring Canyon Bridge, construction crews are drilling holes in the concrete surface.
In preparation for the installation of a suicide-prevention barrier along the sides of Cold Spring Canyon Bridge, construction crews are drilling holes in the concrete surface. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

There have been 53 suicides from the bridge since 1964, and local law enforcement and the nonprofit Glendon Association, a suicide and violence prevention organization, have supported installing a physical barrier on the bridge. Proponents argue that a barrier will both prevent suicides and protect emergency responders, such as Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Search and Rescue team members, who must traverse difficult terrain to recover bodies. Many other jurisdictions have erected similar barriers, and some studies have shown them to be effective.

Opponents question the funding and effectiveness of the physical barrier, when no money has been allocated for outreach or mental health programs. Critics have also expressed worry about the impact on the bridge’s historical and aesthetic qualities.

The total barrier project cost is about $3 million, about $1.3 million of which are American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds diverted from the Highway 101 widening project between Hot Springs Road and Milpas Street in Santa Barbara. The other $1.6 million are State Highway Operation and Protection Program funds, dollars that have already been spent, according to Caltrans District 5 spokesman Jim Shivers.

Construction costs are estimated at $778,000, an increase from an initial bid announcement of $648,000. Administrative costs — including staff time, drafting environmental documents and holding public meetings — have pushed the price to $3 million, Shivers told Noozhawk.

Cold Spring Canyon Bridge is the largest steel arch bridge in California and is the only one younger than 50 years old — it was completed in 1963 — that is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Noozhawk’s Cold Spring Canyon Bridge Series

» Click here for free suicide prevention resources that are available 24 hours a day.

» Click here for the first story in Noozhawk’s four-day series on Cold Spring Canyon Bridge: Public Safety, Preservation Collide on Cold Spring Canyon Bridge.

» Click here for Day Two’s main story: Creativity a Hallmark of Bridge Barrier Alternatives, Funding.

» Click here for Day Three’s main story: For Barrier Opponents, There’s No Bridging This Divide.

» Click here for Day Four’s main story: Bridge Barrier Debate May Be Resolved in Span of a Month.

» Click here for Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen’s explanation of our series.

» Leading Off: Just What Can We Say, and How? Suicide is a touchy topic for the media. Here’s what Noozhawk does, and why.

» Click here for a timeline of Cold Spring Canyon Bridge.

» Click here for a list of the various suicide prevention measures that were considered.

» Click here for a list of landmark bridges around the world employing suicide-prevention barriers.

» Click here for Cold Spring Canyon Bridge facts and engineering numbers.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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