MTA to install suicide prevention fence along Verrazzano Bridge

suicide prevention fence
The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.
File photo by Steve Solomonson

New York transit authorities will pay more than $32 million to build a suicide prevention fence on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, officials announced on Wednesday.

The fencing, which will extend 28,000 feet across the upper and lower roadway, will be made of stainless steal mesh that can withstand high winds, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said. 

“This is an important safety feature being added to this high-volume facility,” said Daniel DeCrescenzo Jr., president of MTA Bridges and Tunnels. “The critical project required thorough analysis and testing to meet the structural and operational challenges of this major suspension bridge, which is a critical link in the regional transportation network.” 

The MTA board awarded the building contract to El Sol Contracting/Dewberry Engineering during a board meeting on March 17, and said that the company has committed to finishing the fence’s construction by the end of 2022. 

The fence’s design and construction will cost $32.8 million, which transportation authorities said was well below the $40 million budgeted for the project. A similar safety fence on the George Washington Bridge was projected to cost between $37 and $50 million when it was announced in 2015.

The new fence will replace a temporary fence that the transportation authority constructed in 2019 after a string of suicides. The prototype fence extends 100 feet on parts of the upper and lower roadway, with sections that reach 50 feet high. Officials have also previously installed six phone lines across the bridge that connect directly to a suicide prevention hotline. 

The projects come as suicides continue to plague the roadway. In 2019, at least three men died after jumping off the bridge, and last year, at least two people died — including a college student from Sunset Park, and a man who suffered from schizophrenia who had previously tried to climb over the safety fence on the George Washington Bridge before police stopped him, the New York Times reported

Officials on both sides of the bridge — and the aisle — praised the new permanent fencing, saying that it could help save hundreds of lives. 

“I am glad to learn that the MTA Board has approved plans to install safety fencing on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge,” said newly-elected Republican Assemblymember Michael Tannousis, who represents Bay Ridge and the East Shore of Staten Island. “This project will improve the safety and security conditions of one of our most important pieces of infrastructure and will prevent future tragedies.” 

While one local elected official acknowledged that the fence won’t help resolve mental health issues, he hopes that it could at least buy time for New Yorkers who travel to the bridge in a fit of desperation. 

“While it is tragic this fencing is needed at all, it will absolutely save lives,” said Bay Ridge Councilman Justin Brannan, who has advocated for such a measure since 2019. “I am grateful to the MTA for moving forward with this necessary project. It will not solve our city’s mental health crisis, but it will be one less opportunity for a person to make a split-second decision that cannot be reversed.”

When asked for further information about the barrier’s cost, MTA spokesperson Meredith Daniels said the price tag was largely reflective of what the fences must stand up to.

“The fencing design, structure and materials are being retrofitted for the longest suspension bridge in North America and must sustain high winds, the marine environment, and other surrounding elements,” she said. “This is a big project.”