French King Bridge safety improvements left unfunded

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Dozens have taken their own life by jumping off the French King Bridge in Franklin County.

Safety measures were approved years ago, but the project never got off the ground.

A viewer turned to Western Mass News for answers, and we set out to ask the tough questions.

The French King Bridge is known for its beauty, but it has a reputation.

Police say about two to three people every year end their life on the steel arched bridge that connects Gill and Erving.

Along with grave safety concerns, it is taxing on both police departments.

Officers are called time and time again to attempt to rescue distraught people from the railings, and with it comes a physical and emotional toll.

"We're very small departments both Gill and Erving. Dealing with not only suicides but attempted suicides, and bogus-type calls where people are just on the bridge," said Erving Police Chief Christopher Blair.

Erving police respond to about 50 to 70 calls on the bridge every year.

In order to cut back on these calls, State Police and local leaders began discussing options to deter jumps and prevent searches back in 2014.

The Mass. DOT wrote in 2016 that they "approved a project to construct a barrier intended to prevent people from jumping off of the bridge."

When the project was first announced, some wondered if the $663,000 dollars would obstruct the view, while others wonder if the spending was wise.

Western Mass News first asked the Mass. DOT back in March about the status of the safety improvements.

They said the project was "still being discussed," but Western Mass News was told nearly two years ago that it was approved.

As we pushed again for answers, the agency now said that the project is in fact unfunded.

The $663,000 dollars earmarked for the bridge construction would cost almost three times the original estimate.

Th Mass. DOT told Western Mass News, "if the proposal moves ahead, the installation of the curved pickets would only be possible if Mass. DOT were to widen the reinforced concrete bridge deck."

The cost now rings up to $1.9 million dollars.

There is a silver lining as security cameras were installed in 2016 to help investigations.

While cameras don't help prevent or assist in rescues, they do help piece together a timeline.

"The cameras are actually working out terrific. There are cameras one on the Gill side, one on the Erving side. They take a series of pictures of the bridge. It tells us when people have committed suicide, but it also tells us when people have not committed suicide," Chief Blair explained.

The fate of the project is in question, but police said they are focused on making sure no one takes that final step ever again.

Mass. DOT will be holding a public hearing in Springfield on Thursday to discuss capital improvements in our area.

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission on Congress Street.

Mass. DOT told Western Mass News that anyone interested in the barrier proposal is welcome to attend.

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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