Thank you for your interest in and support of the Valley News. We need to raise $60,000 to host journalists Frances Mize and Alex Driehaus for their one-year placements in the Upper Valley through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Vermont Plans Suicide-Prevention Measures at Quechee Gorge

  • While enroute to Woodstock, Vt., bus tour participants stop at the Quechee Gorge in Quechee, Vt., to take a look on a foggy afternoon on October 9, 2015. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Sarah Priestap

  • Signs have been installed at Quechee Gorge to reduce the likelihood someone would harm themselves at the bridge, which read “YOU MATTER” along with a crisis number to call. There are also assistance kiosks with a call button that rings a 24/7 counseling service. (Valley News - Jordan Cuddemi) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jordan Cuddemi

  • An artist's rendering shows a proposed barrier wall to reduce the risk of suicide from the Quechee Gorge bridge, one of two barriers under consideration. According to a Jan. 2017 report to the legislature by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, there have been 15 suicides since 2003. (Courtesy Vermont Agency of Transportation) Courtesy Vermont Agency of Transportation

  • An artist's rendering shows a proposed barrier net below the bridge to reduce the risk of suicide from the Quechee Gorge bridge, one of two barriers under consideration. According to a Jan. 2017 report to the legislature by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, there have been 15 suicides since 2003. (Courtesy Vermont Agency of Transportation) Courtesy of Vermont Agency of Transportation

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2017 12:08:52 AM
Modified: 7/25/2017 9:37:59 AM

Quechee — State transportation officials said Monday they hope to secure federal funding by the end of the week to start designing suicide-prevention measures and other improvements at the Quechee Gorge Bridge.

The projects stem from legislation passed in 2016 requiring officials to implement suicide-prevention measures and improve pedestrian and first responder safety in response to a number of suicides and other incidents at the tourist attraction.

A January 2017 report, also mandated by the legislation, said there have been 15 suicides since 2003, including two a year for the past two years. There have also been 22 motor vehicle crashes on the bridge in roughly 7 years.

“The bridge has become associated with a long record of suicides,” the report prepared by Vermont Agency of Transportation officials states. “This reputation, combined with a relatively low and easily climbable barrier, may draw people to the bridge during times of crisis.”

VTRANS officials seek to change that by installing either a barrier wall or a net below the bridge. Both would be expensive, with the cost to be divided between the state and federal governments.

In the meantime, officials have taken interim and less expensive steps that they hope will prevent suicides, including erecting assistance kiosks with a call button that rings a 24/7 counseling service offered by Lebanon-based Headrest and also installing signs that read “YOU MATTER” with a crisis number to call. 

State workers installed two kiosks, one on either side of the bridge, in January and two signs, also on either side of the bridge, in February, a few months after an October deadline that was extended from July.

VTRANS Deputy Chief Engineer Wayne Symonds said on Monday that once the Federal Highway Administration authorizes $50,000 for scope and design studies, which he anticipates will happen by the end of the week, state officials can begin drafting improvement ideas for the bridge.

Exactly what they will entail isn’t yet clear, he said, adding that officials will be seeking further input from the public. The report looked at several options and focused on two proposals — the barrier wall or net.

Several area residents in November expressed support for the net, saying it is least likely to obscure views.

“We have a good start on that public input,” Symonds said. “As it gets put together, we are going to have to come to a resolution on project details, including which prevention method is going to be prepared.”

If state officials decide to erect a barrier wall, they may also need to widen sidewalks on the bridge for structural reasons, Symonds said, something they may decide to do regardless of the option chosen. Widening the sidewalks would also provide pedestrians more room to safely navigate around one another while viewing the 165-foot drop below to the Ottauquechee River.

While the report discusses a chain link, Plexiglas and steel mesh as potential barriers, it focuses on steel balusters. Such balusters are commonly eight to 10 feet tall and typically spaced six to eight inches apart, allowing pedestrians to photograph scenery. The report notes that the baluster option would have a visual impact on the area and would cost about $1.7 million.

If officials opt for a net, it would be placed about 15 feet below the existing bridge rail and extend outward 15 feet. The net would not require upgrading sidewalks and would have less of a visual impact on the area than a barrier. A net is projected to cost a little more than a barrier — about $1.9 million — and would have more ongoing maintenance costs, the report states.

Both of those options have been found to save lives, according to the report.

Other improvements could include upgraded lighting on the bridge and in the parking areas.

The report also considers the possibility of installing a $300,000 temporary barrier before a permanent solution is executed, but Symonds said that is not something VTRANS plans to do.

Although the report said projects of this magnitude could take up to five years to complete, Symonds said he is “pretty doubtful” it would take that long.

“But how much less than that I don’t know,” he said.

At the public forum in November, Kip Miller, owner of Quechee Gorge Gifts and Sportswear, said he has surveyed business owners in the area and they favor a net.

On Monday, he said he and the others still support that approach. 

“It is the least obtrusive,” Miller said inside his store, which he has owned since 1980. A barrier, he said, would “ruin the whole experience” the gorge has to offer.

Vermont Rep. Gabrielle Lucke, D-Hartford, said the project must take into account several groups of people, including first responders who perform physically difficult and emotionally draining rescues from the gorge that come at a hefty price tag.

“Our job is to really step back and take a full picture,” Lucke said. 

Lucke said it makes sense to increase — to some degree — the height of the existing railings.

“It has always been startling for me to see how low the barrier is at the Quechee Gorge,” she said. “I appreciate the element of really wanting space for photographers but I think there are ways that we could increase the height … while still creating open spaces.

“If there is more of a physical barrier, that is the point where people (contemplating suicide) may stop and take stock,” Lucke said. “While the net provides that in a different way, someone is still potentially going over the edge.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy