scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Advocates call for temporary barriers on R.I.’s iconic bridges

Bridging the Gap for Healing and Safety says interim step needed as officials pursue permanent means of preventing accidental and deliberate bridge deaths

The Mount Hope Bridge, opened in 1929, connects the Rhode Island towns of Bristol and Portsmouth as it soars over the waters of Narragansett Bay.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Advocates on Friday called for state officials to install temporary barriers while awaiting a more permanent means of trying to prevent suicides from the Newport Pell, Jamestown Verrazzano, Mount Hope, and Sakonnet River bridges.

In July, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority began seeking proposals from qualified consulting firms to perform a “conceptual study and analysis” of suicide prevention measures for the four bridges. Proposals were due in September, with the award of the contract contingent on funding.

But in the meantime, Bridging the Gap for Healing and Safety, a local advocacy group, is pressing for temporary physical barriers to be installed while the studies, bidding, and legislative processes continue.


“We actually have the tools, following federal and state safety standards, to stop accidental and deliberate bridge deaths,” the group’s co-founders, Bryan Ganley and Melissa J. Cotta, said in a statement. “In the interim, while we wait for permanent barriers to be installed, the time is now to make our bridges safer by installing temporary barriers.”

They are asking Governor Daniel J. McKee, House and Senate leaders, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, and the state Department of Transportation “to not let one more death happen and to order temporary barriers installed today.” They said, “When we do this for Rhode Island, we will be a model for the world.”

Ganley, a 40-year volunteer for The Samaritans of Rhode Island, has been advocating for suicide-prevention barriers on local bridges since the 1980s, when a friend took his own life. As a 15-year member of the Heat and Frost Insulators Union based in Boston, he said he knows potential falls from bridges would not be tolerated for workers of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority or the state Department of Transportation.

“In the construction industry throughout the world, the goal is zero injuries,” Ganley said. “Falls would be prevented through the installation of temporary barriers and employee equipment designed to prevent falls, injuries and deaths.”


He said a dozen people have jumped from the four bridges over the past year.

“Those bridges have become a public safety issue to the people of Rhode Island,” Ganley said. “They need to make their bridges safe. It’s unacceptable. We are not going to let up.”

The group said Representative Joseph J. Solomon Jr. and Senator Louis P. DiPalma are expected to reintroduce legislation this session that would require “a safety barrier and/or safety netting” on the four bridges.

As of Friday, 4,131 people had signed an online petition asking for barriers to be installed.

“Our next goal is 5,000,” Cotta said. “The comments written on the petition in support of barriers are heartbreaking. The comments bear witness to just a fraction of what the families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and first responders experience, not only when a death from a bridge occurs, but for a lifetime.”

DiPalma, a Middletown Democrat, said the Turnpike and Bridge Authority has chosen a company to do the engineering and design work for barriers on the four bridges, and that work will cost about $1.5 million.

“They are ready to go, awaiting the money,” DiPalma said, explaining that potential funding sources include the federal infrastructure bill, federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, or the state’s $618.4 million budget surplus. More money would be needed to install the barriers, but DiPalma said, “You have to start somewhere.”


The idea of temporary barriers is “worth considering,” DiPalma said. “And we need to keep our focus on getting the permanent barriers designed and constructed and in place.”

Solomon, a Warwick Democrat, said he and DiPalma have drafted bills regarding the bridge barriers and they will be introduced next week.

“If we could put up the barriers tomorrow, I’d support it,” he said. “There’s really no time to waste. Every life counts.”

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.