The new Golden Gate Bridge movable barrier: Is this a reasonable use of public funds?

Golden Gate BridgeAs of next weekend, the Golden Gate Bridge will have a new movable barrier in place.  It will have cost $30.3 million to build and install.

With the new barrier in place, in the last quarter-mile before getting on the bridge, drivers coming from Marin will have to drive at 45 mph, rather than 55 mph.  People who are used to driving in the right lanes heading towards the bridge (because, up until now, the left lanes vanish), will discover that the reverse is now true:  the right lanes vanish, leaving only the left lanes. In addition, on the bridge itself, the left lanes in both directions will lose 6 inches:

Once on the span, drivers will lose 6 inches of lane.

“Just getting used to driving next to the barrier may take some adjustment for drivers,” Fehler said.

California Highway Patrol spokesman Andrew Barclay agreed.

“People need to use caution,” he said. “There will be an adjustment period. But we support anything that promotes safety for the traveler.”

Maybe I’m just a nervous nelly, but I see a few drivers tangling with that barrier or, worse, getting too close to cars on their right, causing accidents.

Why all this money and all these changes?

The bridge district says the barrier will prevent potentially deadly head-on accidents.

Hmmm.  I wasn’t aware that deadly head-on accidents were that much of a problem on the bridge.  I mean, I’ve always known that they’re a risk, which is why I prefer, when driving on the bridge, to stay away from the left lanes but, again, I don’t recall a whole bunch of accidents.

It turns out that there’s a reason I don’t recall a whole bunch of accidents.  There aren’t a whole bunch:

There have been 36 fatalities on the span since 1971, the last on July 3, 2001, with 16 fatalities occurring in head-on crashes. About 40 million cars a year cross the 1.7-mile bridge.

So, not only has there not been a fatal accident in more than 13 years, you don’t need to be a math genius to figure out that, with 1,720,000,000 car crossing the bridge since 1971, 16 fatalities due to head-on crashes is such an infinitesimally small percentage that I can’t get my calculator to tell me just how small.  Perhaps one of you — less math challenged than I am — can do the numbers.

Every death is a tragedy.  Every person who dies is someone’s parent, child, sibling, relative, spouse, friend, or lover.  In a perfect world, no one would die ever.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.  So my question for you is, assuming that the Marin IJ got its numbers correct, is it smart to spend more than $30 million dollars, inconvenience drivers, and create possible road hazards, in order to protect that almost invisibly small percentage of drivers who get killed in head-on collisions, with the last death occurring more than 13 years ago?

Does this kind of project reveal us to be a society that values life or a society that could use its money more wisely to save or improve life?

As you can see, I’m inclined to think that this is a boondoggle, not a necessity or even an act of decency.  I stand ready to be dissuaded, though, with better facts, better arguments, better logical, and/or more decency than I’m showing.