By RACHAEL LONG
The Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge has been the site of 32 reported suicides since 2000. As a result, the 32-inch guardrails have been called into question for their low height as the bridge is frequented by pedestrians, cyclists and sightseers.
It’s a problem that has launched many into action, even at the Congressional level.
U.S. Congressman Mark Green has begun looking for a solution to the bridge’s high number of suicides, according to his Communications Director Mitchell Hailstone. Green has been in contact with the National Park Service, other members of the Tennessee federal delegation and the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition, efforts being described as “Phase 1.”
Green has also reached out to members of the California delegation to learn about the process of installing a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge, a project with a projected completion date of January 2021.
Like the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition, the Bridge Rail Foundation was designed to put an end to the high number of suicides happening from the Golden Gate Bridge. To date, more than 1,700 suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge have been documented.
According to the Foundation, there are two types of physical deterrent systems which have been proven effective: a safety netting and raising the existing railing to eight feet or higher.
Upon its completion, the Golden Gate Bridge will have steel netting that protrudes 20 feet out and sits 20 feet below the bridge.
Green held a town hall in December where he talked with Trish Merelo — one of the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition’s founding members — about the suicide problem at the bridge. Although he vowed his support for the issue at the town hall, Green told Merelo that he did not want to make the Natchez Trace Bridge a campaign issue for fear that media coverage could inspire a contagion effect.
He also encouraged people to get in touch with their federal legislators to get the ball rolling.
Because it sits on federally-owned land, any changes to the bridge would require approval from the National Parks Service and could go as far up the chain as the Department of Interior. In other words, barriers won’t go up overnight.
“We are doing everything we can to push for action on the Natchez Trace Bridge,” Hailstone said in an email. “And in the event that negotiations with the park service fails, we are preparing legislation.”
Introduction of related legislation would be considered “Phase 2” of Green’s efforts, Hailstone confirmed.