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Bridges, Manhole Covers and Post Offices

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Read further and you’ll find out about a slew of New Mexico post offices that have just been put on the chopping block, as well as very important manhole covers and what New Mexicans think of the hardworking journalists who bring them the news.

But first I’d like to offer an unpopular solution to the problems at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

The Department of Transportation is undertaking a $2.6 million structural renovation to make the bridge safer for drivers. The construction, which starts Monday, involves updating and fortifying the breathtaking span. It includes nada to make the bridge safer for the depressed and desperate people who use it to end their lives.

The bridge is one of the nation’s more popular suicide sites; in the most recent 10 months, seven people have taken their lives by jumping from the bridge into the rocky gorge hundreds of feet below.

The Department of Transportation has concluded that placing a higher fence to prevent jumping or a steel mesh under the bridge to catch people who jump or fall would add too much weight and be too costly. So the renovation leaves out anything that addresses pedestrian safety.

The bridge was designed to carry traffic on a U.S. highway across the Rio Grande, but it has become more than just a conveyance of motor vehicles. It’s a tourist attraction, and a popular and wonderful one. One of the great cheap thrills in life is standing on the sidewalk in the middle of the span when a hay truck drives by.

But below is a graveyard; more than 100 people have made a fatal choice on the bridge. Interviews with survivors of attempted suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge find one common and unsettling denominator: Each one regretted the choice to jump as soon as his or her hands left the railing.

No one survives a fall into the Taos gorge, but if they did they would probably live to speak of the same regret.

State Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, whose northern district includes the bridge site, wants to further study the issue and told me he believes a solution is out there — one that preserves the views for tourists, prevents the possibility of jumping and comes in at a price we can afford.

If that magic solution can’t be found — and quick — I’d offer the unpopular one: Close the bridge to foot traffic. Ask yourself this the next time you want to take your out-of-town friends for a look down at the gorge: Is the thrill of the view worth a hundred lives?

♦ I wrote about the sad but inevitable end of some rural post offices across New Mexico. The United States Postal Service has been looking at about dozen offices to close to help stanch the flow of red ink in its budget.

Now there are even more — a lot more — being considered for shuttering. There is now another list of some 3,700 post offices nationwide under consideration for closure and replacement with postal counters in nearby businesses. Fifty-four of the additional post offices are in New Mexico. The list reads like a travelogue of New Mexico’s most treasured places: Amalia, Costilla, Paguate, San Patricio, Watrous, Winston. My local post office in Alameda is on the list, along with four others in the Albuquerque area.

You can see the list, and maybe find your beloved local P.O., by going to usps.com and searching for “expanded access study list.”

♦ The opportunity to put your imprint on a manhole cover doesn’t come along every day, so act fast. The city of Albuquerque’s public art program is commissioning designs for its “Center of the City Project,” which will mark the geographical centers of Albuquerque in 1912 and in 2012.

You might recall the city was kind enough to answer our question, “Where is the center of Albuquerque?” last year by using fancy technology and I marked the spot with an unceremonious duct-tape X, hoping for an eventual upgrade. I’ll confess a manhole cover wasn’t what I had in mind, but it has its own charm.

The 1912 center is on Fourth Street between Central and Gold. The modern center is just south of I-40 between Third and Fourth.

The city is looking for manhole cover designs under its public art program, and there’s a couple grand available for the winning artist.

You can check out the rules at www.cabq.gov/publicart/opportunities-for-artists. The deadline for submissions is Sept. 2.

♦ A few things caught my eye in a report put out recently by The Garrity Group public relations firm, which hired Research & Polling to plumb the perceptions of New Mexicans about industries, institutions and professions.

First, the top five most favorably ranked industries and institutions, in order, were small businesses, the national laboratories, farming and ranching, the state universities and churches. Courts and the justice system ranked 14th out of 16 — and that was before some of the latest cops and courts scandals.

In the category of trustworthiness, journalists managed to eke out the support of only 26 percent of those polled, putting us well under “the ordinary man or woman” but above lawyers and government officials. So, ouch, and thank you.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie Linthicum at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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