The Cost of Delay - An Analysis of the Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Deterrent System
Since 2006, the Golden Gate Bridge District has been proposing to build a suicide deterrent barrier. As expected, with major government-funded projects, there was a significant amount of bureaucratic delays caused by regulatory statutes. The project required studies, design agreements, and construction bid acceptance. Over the ten year planning period, the estimated cost of the project grew, as well as the death count of individuals taking their own lives by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
While an in-depth look into why each of those aspects of approval is needed, the Golden Gate Bridge District must fully understand the cost of the delays. This analysis will attempt to analyze the cost of the planning and contrast it to the value of a statistical life (VSL) as defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation. What previous studies have failed to apply is the concept of the value of preventing injury (VPI) to account for the cost impact of those who survive the average 220-foot jump. This study will apply these methods to establish the cost-effectiveness and break-even point, based on five years of data (2011–2015).
The participants within this analysis are all individuals who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge (Figure 1.1) between the years 2011 to 2015. The study will separate those who survived and those who did not survive. There is debate regarding an adjustment to account for the age of the individual to calculate their economic value.
Assessments and Measures
Value of a Statistical Life (VSL). VSL has been used by the United States Government, specifically the Department of Transportation, since 1993. It is a fixed cost, or value, of human life. This idea has provided consistency and allowed for a cost analysis to be done when the cost is a human fatality. It is calculated by establishing the average individual economic contribution and adjusted for the year’s real income and prices (Morgan & Carlos, 2015).
The following equation is used to make adjustments based on the aforementioned real incomes and prices:
VSL T = VSL 0 * (P T / P 0 ) * (I T / I 0 ) Ɛ
0 = Original Base Year
T=Updated Base Year
P T =Price Index in Years T
I T =Real Incomes in Year T
Ɛ =Income Elasticity of VSL
Value of Preventing Injury (VPI). VPI is similar to the VSL, except that it accounts for injured individuals who survive. Based on their injury, a measurement or score is applied to the individual. This score is known as the Abbreviated Injury Scale. The score is then translated into injury severity and assigned a specific fraction of the VSL. This assignment of the score is known as the Maximum Abbreviated Injury Score or MAIS. (Morgan & Carlos, 2015)
Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS). The AIS is an injury severity measurement tool that is used by the U.S. Government and hospitals to assign a numeric severity value to specific diagnoses. It is calculated by identifying the most severe injury within the seven central main body regions. Each damage within that region has a score of its own. The AIS is calculated by taking the highest number regardless of the body region. Simply put, it is a tool to establish the survivability of a patient’s injuries. (Foreman et al., 2007)
Golden Gate Bridge District Project Cost. Since the inception and adoption of the deterrence system idea, the Golden Gate Bridge District (GGBD) has seen an increase in the project cost as the years have progressed. While funding origins have maintained similarities throughout the years, the overall cost has not. These costs are available for public view and use through the GGBD research library. While in 2011, the preliminary project cost was estimated to be $66 million (GGBD, 2010), the final and approved cost over the construction of the net is $204 million, plus $7 million in materials.
VSL by Year
Calculation Method. The VSL was calculated using a formula other than that mentioned above for this analysis. We found it best to use currency inflation rates and calculate prior VSL rates off today’s evaluation by the Department of Transportation. This method allowed us to analyze the cost in a manner that is more understandable by analysis today.
Outcome. Using the calculation method described in the previous paragraph, we were able to calculate that the cost in delay from 2011–2015, in regards to human life, was resulted as $1.25 billion or 138 human lives adjusted for calculated VSL for each year.
VPI by Year
Calculation Method. The VPI was calculated in a similar manner to the VSL. We found it best to use currency inflation rates and calculate prior VPI rates off today’s evaluation by the Department of Transportation. This method again allowed us to analyze the cost in a manner that is more understandable by analysis today. VPI also accounts for the health of living individuals that survive their traumatic injury. This is done by using pre-defined ratios of the VSL based on an abbreviated injury score and/or injury severity score.
Outcome. Using the calculation method described in the previous paragraph, we were able to calculate that the cost in delay from 2011–2015, in regards to human healthcare cost and life prolonged disability cost, was resulted as $68.05 million or 9 human lives severely interrupted by injuries sustained from the jump, adjusted for calculated VPI for each year
Combined Costs by Year. This brings the total cost of lost health lives to 146 individuals. By separating the two categories, we are able more accurately estimate the cost in delaying the construction of the suicide deterrent system on the Golden Gate Bridge between the years 2011 and 2015. This accounted for $1.32 billion (Table 1.1).
The cost of human lives lost or permanently damaged by delay in construction amounts to a potential $1.32 billion. As a final construction cost of $211 million, the break-even date, based on VSL and VPI trends, for building the deterrent system is five years from 2015 should the construction start and conclude in the same year. This amounts to an additional 28 deaths annually, or $253.8 million.
While the dollar amounts alone are concerning from a fiscal standpoint, they are even more concerning from an ethical and social impact perspective. What the dollar amounts are unable to capture is the devastation to family members and other non-factored impacts. However, this study was intended for analysis from a fiscal standpoint only. Based on the calculations and results from our inquiry and data mining, the impact of bureaucratic delays (environmental studies, board meetings, etc.) is a heavy burden placed on taxpayers. We conclude that the bureaucratic delays in construction and approval of the deterrent system were devastating to taxpayers and families. While intentions are good behind bureaucratic steps in project management, they leave behind a trail of wasteful spending. In this case, a massive amount of lives lost. It is unacceptable to consider the final construction approval as a successful implementation. As it has not performed its job of lowering suicide rates from the Golden Gate Bridge, and will not do so until it is finished in 2019.
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