My Turn: Install suicide prevention barriers on French King Bridge

  • View west down the upstream rail of the French King Bridge. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Published: 6/4/2020 1:20:36 PM

(The following letter was sent to Mass. Department of Transportation by Gill Town Administrator Ray Purington, on behalf of the Gill Selectboard, regarding state funding in its 2021 Capital Investment Plan for safety barriers at the French King Bridge.)

Dear Secretary Pollack:

This letter is not starting out the way I expected. Until I opened today’s edition of the Greenfield Recorder, my plan was to freshen up last year’s letter and send it off via email. But then I read the Page 1 above-the-fold headline: “Body of missing woman found in Connecticut River.” While the cause of death remains under investigation, the circumstances leading up to the discovery of her body on Sunday all point to another tragic and preventable suicide from the Route 2 French King Bridge spanning the Connecticut River between Gill and Erving.

The most recent victim is a 34-year-old woman from Colrain with a history mental health issues. She was suicidal, and on April 7th, the last day she was seen alive, had used Google to research the French King Bridge. Her name was Caroline “Morgan” Bren.

I wish I could list the name of each and every person who has died jumping from this bridge. Every name had family members and loved ones, and a life story cut short. Names and stories bring the touching sense of humanity to the bigger issues that we, as public officials, wrestle with every day. I would list those names to reinforce that this letter is about more than steel and concrete, more than dollars and cents. This is life and death.

The French King Bridge has been the scene of many suicides and attempted suicides over the years. Our Police Chief, in fact, has responded to at least 20 suicide calls, and countless attempts and threats. One of our Selectboard members has found two bodies in the Connecticut River where it passes by his Gill home.

In 2018, after many years of lobbying, pressuring, and (finally) collaborating, a group of state legislators, MassDOT representatives, and town officials completed a study on strategies for addressing this issue. The MassDOT put forward a preferred solution, a curved picket barrier extension behind the existing railing, and our Town supports this solution.

Using other sources of funding, the MassDOT District 2 has started some of the design and engineering for the barriers. However, the work is slow and the timeline is uncertain, largely because there is no guarantee of construction funds since the project is not included in the CIP. The safety and security of this bridge is the most important transportation priority for our town.

The Gill Selectboard requests the project to install suicide prevention barriers be included in the Capital Investment Plan (CIP) currently out for public comment.

During their discussion of this letter at their meeting on May 26th, the Selectboard pointed out this is a very tense and uncertain time in our world. Economic depression, mental depression, COVID fatigue, and other mental health issues are on the rise. Vehicular traffic, however, declined tremendously during the shutdown and stay-at-home order. While traffic-related infrastructure is still important, at this time a project involving suicide prevention barriers needs to be recognized, prioritized, and funded.


Ray Purington, Town Administrator, on behalf of the Gill Selectboard: John R. Ward, Chair, Randy Crochier, Greg Snedeker


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