Thousands sign petition calling for suicide prevention barriers on RI bridges
BRISTOL, R.I. (WLNE) – A pair of activists are doubling down on the effort to get suicide prevention barriers installed on the tallest bridges in the state.
Melissa Cotta of Tiverton and Bryan Ganley of Bristol founded Bridging the Gap for Safety and Healing, a suicide prevention organization with a three-tier mission: supporting survivors, spreading awareness and installing safety barriers to prevent suicides.
“I became an activist on this topic back in 2016 after witnessing a jump from the Mount Hope Bridge,” said Cotta. “I struggled at the time because I couldn’t do anything. I did have interactions with this person which made it more difficult for me to kind of process a little bit ’cause I felt like there was more that I could do.”
Cotta said the conditions on the bridge that day impacted how she was able to speak with the person in distress.
“The conditions up there were not good and the railing is extremely low. It’s only 35 inches on the Mount Hope Bridge. The Newport Pell Bridge is only 42 inches high. So it is a huge safety issue for all of us, and that was one of the main deterrents of why I couldn’t interact on a more deep level that day.”
Cotta said she found Ganley, who’s lost loved ones to suicide himself, online. The two teamed up and got the attention of lawmakers, who introduced two bills in 2020 that would install safety barriers on the state’s three largest bridges: the Mount Hope Bridge, the Claiborne Pell Bridge, and the Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge.
But the COVID-19 pandemic halted last year’s legislative session and the bills were reintroduced in January of 2021.
“The session did recess at the end of June this year, the bills were not included in the state budget,” said Cotta.
The halt in progress prompted the pair to start a petition to garner more attention on the subject.
Cotta said from November of 2020 to July 2, 2021, there were eight confirmed suicides on the bridges. In November, she said there were two on the same day, and in April, there were three within a nine-day period. On the Fourth of July weekend, there were two deaths by suicide on the Mount Hope Bridge.
“We are using this petition to kind of raise awareness and to show the legislation, the congressional delegation, the governor, the speaker of the house and also the senate president in particular that the residents of Rhode Island, as well as the surrounding areas that use our bridges all the time, are in favor of these barriers and really do want them.”
They’re hoping the bills are taken up by the General Assembly in the fall.
“These barriers are gonna cause a pause. They’re gonna cause a delay where people can come and intervene and help the person up there to get the help that they need. These people are not necessarily looking to end their lives, they just want to end the pain, and we have an easy access such as these bridges where the railings are so low…that is an open invitation for them to come and do that and in most cases it is lethal.”
Sponsors of the bills, Rep. Joseph Solomon and Sen. Louis DiPalma, said progress is being made. The two told ABC6 they’re hoping to secure federal infrastructure funds from the American Rescue Plan to erect the barriers if the bills are passed.
Rep. Solomon sent ABC6 the following statement:
“Although the General Assembly is currently in recess, we are still working behind the scenes with the RI Bridge and Turnpike Authority and the RI Department of Transportation on moving things forward. With one time federal funding becoming available in the federal infrastructure bill, it is our hope that some of the funding can be allocated to both the design and implementation of suicide prevention barriers or netting. Although we are moving in the right direction this is not a time to become complacent. Melissa Cotta and Bryan Ganley have done an outstanding job working on this from day one. They are continuing to raise awareness on this issue and show that it is a priority in Rhode Island. Rhode Island would not be the first state to implement these barriers. Those states that do have barriers show how effective they are. I will continue to push for this legislation with the intent of getting it passed when we reconvene this fall.”