FRANKLIN, TN (WSMV) - More than $1 million has been secured to make Natchez Trace Bridge over Highway 96, known as the “suicide bridge,” safer.

After years of demands for higher barriers, the National Parks Service and Federal Highway Administration have identified $1.2 million to study the feasibility of doing so.

Since 2000, 32 people have taken their lives by jumping from the iconic bridge.

“No one was addressing this, and a lot of people in Middle Tennessee had no idea this was happening just down the road from where they live,” Trish Merelo said.

Her son lost his battle with depression on the bridge in 2016.

Since then, Merelo has started a coalition to push for higher barriers on the bridge, which currently stand at 32 inches tall.

In March, the bridge was declared a public health hazard by the State.

“No family is immune to this,” Merelo said. “If we can give someone 10 minutes, an hour, another day to have that hope that their life will change around, it’s so worth it.”

According to Mary Risser, Superintendent of Natchez Trace Parkway, research on pedestrian barrier designs began in 2015. The money allotted will cover phase one, dedicated to finding a barrier that meets safety, structural, and cost criteria for the double arch bridge.

Once ideas are narrowed down, they’ll determine whether the bridge can carry the extra weight.

“Elements of the bridge are currently near their load capacity,” Risser said. “So, the alternatives need to be analyzed to ensure the structural integrity of the bridge before a determination can be made on which alternative to select and move forward.”

Phase two is construction, which could begin in 2023. More money will have to be put aside for that.

“I didn't think he'd do that to us,” Merelo said. “And I know now ‘us’ has nothing to do with it. When someone is in that kind of pain they will do anything to make it stop.”

She urged parents to fight to see the signs before someone gets as far as a barrier.

“I say to parents to do not treat this lightly. Do anything you can make them talk. Don’t think it can’t happen to you,” Merelo said.

If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

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Reporter

Rebecca Cardenas is a Murrow-award winning journalist who joined News4 as a reporter in September 2017. She currently covers the court systems in Middle Tennessee.

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