STATE HOUSE — Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick) and Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton, Little Compton), who introduced legislation earlier this year to erect barriers on the bridges of Narragansett Bay, say they are gratified that money has been included in the proposed state budget to study the feasibility of the project.
The budget, which was approved by the House Finance Committee on Thursday, includes $1 million from State Fiscal Recovery funds for the Turnpike and Bridge Authority to conduct a study to identify and evaluate the options to prevent and address the risk of suicide on bridges under its purview.
“Too many people have lost their lives on those bridges in the last decade,” said Representative Solomon. “Due to technological advances, there are various types of barriers and netting available to increase safety without hindering access for routine inspection and maintenance of the bridges. I’m glad we were able to include this money in the budget to start the process of getting those barriers built.”
The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority has suicide prevention measures in places, including a smart surveillance system allowing authorities to act quickly, but virtually no way to deter a determined jumper. The Samaritans of Rhode Island also have signs posted at the bridge entrances with information for those contemplating suicide.
“This is an all-too-frequent tragedy,” said Senator DiPalma. “The cost of suicide is great. Not only is there a tragic loss of life, but those left behind can spend their lives struggling with grief, anxiety and guilt. Beyond that, suicides and suicide attempts cost the nation almost $70 billion per year in lifetime medical and work-loss costs according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The inclusion of this money in the budget is a good starting point to get this work done.”
Denise Panichas, executive director of The Samaritans of Rhode Island, praised the funding, saying, “Since the first bridge was built in 1929, the state has witnessed loss after loss from the Mount Hope, Pell and Jamestown Bridges but has always remained silent to the tragedies. Today, this notable investment is the first step in a commitment to ending our horrific legacy once and for all. Bridge suicides are a global problem. Because of the leadership and vision of Speaker Shekarchi, Representative Solomon and Senator DiPalma, Rhode Island just made history.”
Melissa Cotta, co-founder of Bridging the Gap for Safety and Healing, echoed those sentiments, saying, “As a first-hand witness to a jumper from one of our bridges, it was so apparently clear there was nothing to prevent someone from going over the three-foot rail. The families I have met, who joined me in advocating for barriers, as well as the more than 5,800 petition signers, shared heart wrenching stories that extend for generations. This appropriation lets everyone know they are not alone, and their loved ones are remembered. Against all odds and the naysayers, it took courage to make this legislative initiative a reality. We are all grateful.”
Bryan Ganley, a 41-year Samaritan volunteer and co-founder of Bridging the Gap for Safety and Healing, said, “As a protégé of Monica Dickens, the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens and founder of The Samaritans, USA, I was always inspired by her commitment to successfully lobby the Army Corp of Engineers for the installation of suicide prevention barriers on the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges in the early 1980s. Then as a young Samaritan volunteer, I was personally involved with advocating for the installation of barriers on the Braga Bridge. Now, through the efforts of the Speaker and our legislative sponsors, Rhode Island is finally moving in the right direction — to ensure bridge safety extends from Cape Cod, Mass. to Jamestown, R.I.”
The House of Representatives is expected to take up the proposed state budget in session on Thursday, June 16.