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New Mexico lawmakers seek to halt suicides at 'Gorge Bridge'

By: RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press
February 6, 2018 Updated: February 6, 2018 at 7:35 pm
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photo - FILE - This Dec. 9, 2006 file photo, shows the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos N.M. New Mexico lawmakers are pushing a measure aimed at curbing suicides at one of the state's most famous bridges. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)
FILE - This Dec. 9, 2006 file photo, shows the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos N.M. New Mexico lawmakers are pushing a measure aimed at curbing suicides at one of the state's most famous bridges. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File) 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in picturesque northern New Mexico is the state's most famous span, has appeared in movies and attracted tourists from around the world.

But the steel deck arch bridge sitting 650 feet (198 meters) above the Rio Grande has also been the site of more than 125 suicides in 20 years.

Now Reps. Roberto "Bobby" Gonzales and Debbie Rodella, two northern New Mexico Democrats, want the state to divert more than $150,000 to reassign three state police officers to monitor the isolated bridge.

Other lawmakers have suggested that the bridge needed suicide barriers but that idea has hit roadblocks due to funding and concerns the barriers would exceed the bridge's weight limit.

A panel of House lawmakers on Tuesday declined to set aside money for police monitoring, and instead will write a letter to local law enforcement agencies asking for new safety suggestions.

The bridge is the second highest bridge on the U.S. highway system, and it's located just outside of Taos, New Mexico, and 43 miles (69 kilometers) south of Colorado.

Taos County officials estimated that six people a year commit suicide at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

In 2016, the New Mexico Department of Transportation installed 10 phones at the bridge to be answered by crisis counselors with the 24-hours-a-day New Mexico Crisis Access Hotline.

The moves in New Mexico follow steps taken in other states to halt suicides at famous bridges.

In California, officials said Golden Gate Bridge suicides decreased after the addition of five officers tasked with spotting suicidal people. More than 1,400 people have jumped to their deaths since that bridge opened in 1937.

A bridge across the Hudson River in New York has had phones connected to a suicide hotline for two decades.

The New Mexico bridge was built in 1965 and was then was called the "bridge to nowhere" since funding for a road on the other side hadn't been allocated at the time.

Since then, it has appeared in movies including "Natural Born Killers" and "Terminator Salvation."

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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