Mental health advocates praise barriers being installed at the Natchez Trace Bridge

Posted at 5:24 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 19:17:32-04

FRANKLIN, Tenn (WTVF) — After more than 40 deaths by suicides on the Natchez Trace Bridge, barriers are finally coming.

Construction started this week to put up a temporary barrier.

"I'm ecstatic, it is a wonderful week," said Trish Merelo. "I went over there yesterday. I had to see for myself — traffic cones and signs and roadwork ahead — and they were the most beautiful things I've seen in a long time."

Merelo is talking about the drive down the Natchez Trace Parkway in Williamson County. She's the co-founder of The Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition.

It's a mission dear to her heart.

"I lost my son to suicide at the bridge in 2016," she said.

Merelo says her son, John, is one of more than 40 people who have died by suicide on the bridge.

For years, she has advocated getting barriers up there and the day is near.

The National Park Service is now in the process of installing a chain-link fence, topped with barbed wire to provide a temporary barrier.

There are three potential designs for the permanent barrier that have been introduced, as well as a no-action alternative, which is to keep the temporary barrier in place.

The commenting period will be open until June 17.

"We're in a good place right now. Because the temporary fence that's going up, there's no 'no option' option, meaning something's going up and staying up," said Merelo. "So the temporary is going up now. It won't be the prettiest thing, but it'll do the job."

In 2019, the National Park Service approved $1.2 million in federal funding for a feasibility study of designs meant to improve safety on the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge.

The same year, lawmakers declared the bridge a public health hazard.

In 2010, the National Park Service began installing non‐physical suicide deterrent systems, including signage with emergency and crisis phone numbers.

If you or someone you know is in distress, write this number down: 800-273-8255.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a network of local crisis centers that provide free and confidential support.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And starting July 16th, it can be reached by dialing three digits: 988.

If you or someone you know is currently experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available. You can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, en Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889, or find more information at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. Veterans can dial 988 and press 1 to reach the Veteran Crisis Line. You can also message the Crisis Text Line by calling or texting HOME to 741741.