Natchez Trace bridge over Highway 96 finally gets temporary suicide prevention safety barrier
After dozens of deaths and many last-minute, life-saving measures by law enforcement, a safety barrier is being installed on the Natchez Trace Parkway Double Arch Bridge across Highway 96 between Fairview and Franklin.
National Park Service (NPS) began the installation of a temporary barrier fence this week in an effort to deter more deaths by suicide at the bridge.
Members of the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition (NTBBC), an action group created by survivors of suicide loss at the bridge, are happy to finally see a barrier being installed. Many NTBBC members see this as a step in the right direction after years of pleading with park and state officials to address the issue.
Trish Merelo-Miller, whose son died at the bridge in 2016, posted on the coalition Facebook page, “Any victories here are in the name of those lost.”
For the duration of the project, the bridge will be closed to pedestrians and hikers. Parkway motorists and bicyclists can expect one-lane closures and 10-to-15-minute traffic delays. The NPS has also temporarily closed the Birdsong Hollow pullout.
The 1,648-foot-long bridge, which offers a view 155 feet above the valley below, is a popular point of interest for parkway visitors because of its unique design and panoramic views. However, the bridge railings were designed to protect drivers, not pedestrians.
The NPS’ Environmental Assessment (EA) examined the potential environmental consequences and has looked at safe and acceptable solutions.
According to the EA, the first suicide occurred at the site in 2000, six years after the bridge opened.
The NPS installed signage with emergency and crisis phone numbers in 2010. Callboxes linked to crisis centers were added in 2019. The Tennessee State Legislature declared the bridge a public health hazard in April 2019.
Still, the rate of suicides averaged four a year between 2015‐2020. The EA reported as of November 2021, the number of deaths as a result of jumping off the bridge had reached 39.
Since then, the number of deaths has continued to rise.
Along with the suffering and loss experienced by surviving family members, the deaths at the bridge have also traumatized many area commuters who may have witnessed a death or emergency response crews responding below the bridge.
The EA identified three design options for a permanent barrier. The NPS is currently accepting public comment now through Thursday, June 17 on the design options. To view the design options and submit a comment, visit www.nps.gov/natr/learn/double-arch-bridge-safety-innovations.htm. You can also mail comments to: Superintendent, Natchez Trace Parkway, 2680 Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo, MS 38804.
Known to offer unobstructed views of the surrounding landscape, the bridge views will be altered with the installation of the temporary safety barrier. The permanent barrier options are designed to be less visible and less obtrusive than the temporary barrier which will remain in place until a permanent barrier is constructed.
The NPS said construction on the permanent safety barrier could begin as early as 2024 once a design is chosen. However, if one of the three permanent barrier designs is not selected, then the temporary barrier will become permanent.
If you know someone in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741).