A PEDESTRIAN barrier aimed at making it nearly impossible to scale the railings of the Van Stadens Bridge will be erected on the notorious landmark in a multimillion- rand effort to stop suicides. Construction on the barrier starts today.
In the 41 years since the bridge was built, 87 people have jumped to their deaths.
The Friends of Van Stadens Bridge Trust, a voluntary organisation which includes Lifeline, the police and community organisation Lions, estimates that an average of two lives are lost annually.
The trust’s chief executive, Cliff Rose, said: “The new barrier will make it very difficult to climb over and the number of suicides and attempted suicides will decrease.
“Most jumpers are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both.
“I feel that most suicides happen by accident on the bridge because it is so easy to get over the barrier,” Rose said.
He said the trust started analysing the way people accessed the bridge when they committed suicide in 2011 and studied the footage taken on the bridge. They then drew up a proposal for the South African Roads Agency (Sanral) motivating why the bridge needed a pedestrian barrier.
“Over the past two years more than a R100000 worth of equipment has been installed to assist police on the bridge as a result of donations received in the form of new equipment and cash,” Rose said.
“The barrier will take eight months to be completed and during this time the slow lane on the bridge will be closed at times.”
Sanral Port Elizabeth construction manager Mike Kaiser said: “Ibhayi Contracting will be carrying out some repairs to the bridge before the steel barrier is erected.
“The contract value is approximately R10.6-million.”
The 2.7m high barrier consists of an epoxy-coated, closely spaced steel mesh that will not impair the view of the Van Stadens gorge from the bridge.
The barrier was designed to ensure that it would still be possible for technical teams to inspect and access the bridge for maintenance.
Kaiser said that the barrier would also be curved back towards the road to make it even more difficult for people to scale.
Thornhill police officer Morne Bradley said: “This will be a big bonus for the Thornhill police station as the number of calls to the bridge will be much less.
“This will also remove the stigma about the bridge being a hotspot for suicide.”
Lifeline director Susan Potgieter welcomed the construction of the barrier and said the structure would help “save more lives”.
She said people considering suicide called in daily and the organisation received three or more suicide-related calls a day between October and December.