SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A suicide prevention network on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, already behind schedule, will cost about $400 million, more than double the original price, because of problems caused by a government agency which controls the span, the contractors claim to be the leader.
The charges, filed in state court Monday by Shimmick Construction Co. and Danny’s Construction Co., say changes and flaws in the government’s design of the network, as well as a lack of transparency about the bridge’s deteriorating operating platforms, have pushed the construction price from $142 million to at least $398 million.
“We were alarmed to discover that the county withheld significant information during the proposal phase of the project, including the significant deterioration of certain sections of the bridge,” Shimick said in a statement.
The project aims to add 20-foot (6-meter) wide stainless steel mesh on both sides of the 1.7-mile (2.7-kilometer) long bridge and replace the maintenance platforms used by bridge builders that were built in the 1950s years. Work on the network began in 2018 and was supposed to be completed by January 2021, but has been repeatedly delayed.
In 2008, bridge officials voted to move forward with a net designed to deter those who want to jump to their deaths and catch those who do. Paul Mueller, president of the Bridge Rail Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to end suicides on the bridge, said the span, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, has been the site of nearly 2,000 suicides since it opened in 1937, including 25 just last year.
Shimmick Construction Co. and Danny’s Construction Co., which formed a joint venture for the project, were sued last year by subcontractor Vigor Works, LLC, which claims it is owed millions of dollars. Earlier this year, the joint venture filed a counterclaim. In a motion filed this week, they asked a judge to allow them to also sue the Golden Gate Bridge Highway Transportation District, which manages the span.
In recent court documents, the contractors allege the county delayed the completion of the project and damaged their reputation by withholding “material information … including the significant deterioration of certain sections of the bridge.”
According to the joint venture, the deterioration mainly occurred on the service platforms – U-shaped structures known as travelers that are powered by diesel engines and hug the bridge on both sides and below to give workers access to the underside of the bridge and hard-to-reach areas.
The alleged issue with the platforms remains unclear because the information has been redacted from court documents. A spokesman for Shimiko said it was done for security reasons and that the judge had to make the information public.
The contractors say they toured the bridge before submitting the bid, but were not allowed to take photos or video and only had access to locations selected by district officials.
County spokesman Paolo Kosulic-Schwartz said the delays and overruns are due in part to the fact that Shimik has had three different owners since the suicide barrier began.
“We are deeply disappointed by the slow pace of construction at Shimmick and the numerous delays in the construction of the suicide barrier,” Kosulich-Schwartz said in a written statement. “The county has been transparent about the condition of the bridge with Shimmick throughout the project.”
The joint venture has completed about 47% of the net volume and plans to complete it by December 2023, almost four years behind schedule. Adding a network requires reconfiguring service platforms. The upgraded platforms are expected to be completed no earlier than January 2026.
Contractors say bridge officials also changed the network design while the project was underway and imposed unnecessary requirements on contractors, driving up costs and causing delays. They cited the scaffolding standard, which is not required by the California Occupational Safety and Health Board, and said the county was unable to obtain a waiver from federal requirements to buy the steel it needed in the U.S. until February of this year.
“Instead of admitting its own mistakes, the county sought to hold SDJV hostage and force it to complete the work without a price adjustment,” the contractors said in court documents. “In other words, the county only wants to pay $142 million for a project that will cost significantly more than $398 million because of the county’s mistakes.”
Suicide prevention advocates say they are frustrated by the delays because they cost lives.
Mueller said that even when part of the network has been built, suicides occur at a typical rate of about two to three per month.
“It’s been a matter of life and death for 85 years,” Mueller said. “We want to see this done and they need to stop bickering and arguing and get it done.”
This story includes a discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 988.