Workers begin building suicide barriers along Vista Bridge

PORTLAND, Ore. - Construction workers on Tuesday began installing temporary screens to prevent suicides on the Vista Bridge.

The nine-foot-tall screens will run along the entire span of the Southwest Portland bridge. Construction workers say they expect the project to take about three weeks.

Four people, including a 15-year-old girl, have jumped to their deaths from the bridge this year.
Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick declared an emergency after the third suicide and ordered for the immediate construction of a screen. City officials said the screen is "an interim remedy that can be in place until a longer-term solution and funding can be found."

The temporary screen costs $236,000. The city is seeking funding for a permanent barrier that's expected to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million.

The bridge, built in the 1920s, has a long history of suicides. Last year, the city posted signs near Portland bridges that have the phone number for Lines for Life. The Vista Bridge was one of the first locations to get the suicide prevention signs.

Bonnie Kahn is among dozens of volunteers patrolling the bridge until the temporary barrier is complete.

"I think the hardest part is talking to people when they're in distress up here, and connecting them with people that can help," Kahn said. "I met a very interesting person who's had a lot of grief in his life and he was up here at five o'clock and we watched the sun rise together."

Some neighbors are against the bridge because they're worried the temporary barrier will never lead to a permanent solution. Others don't want the barrier to block their view.

"The city did not involve any of the neighborhoods surrounding the bridge at all," said Nicolas Clark. "It's a muzzle. It's a big muzzle. A knee-jerk reaction to an issue and they're putting a muzzle on a historic landmark without any public process."

Kahn says the group Friends of the Vista Bridge hopes to work with the city to raise money to replace the barrier with something more architecturally appropriate.

Available resources

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts or needs help, police say the following options are available:

  • The Multnomah County Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at (503) 988-4888.
  • Lines for Life is available 24 hours a day at (503) 972-3456.
  • Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare has an urgent walk-in clinic open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., 7 days a week. Payment is not necessary. Call (503) 963-2575.

KATU's Emily Sinovic contributed to this story.