San Francisco's iconic Golden Gate bridge, one of the most popular tourist sites in California, is getting a $76m (£49m) safety net of steel wires.

The plan to create suicide barriers on the bridge, where 1,600 people have leapt to their deaths since it opened in 1937, was a subject of controversy for decades, with opponents arguing they would mar the structure's beauty. According to John Eberle, deputy district engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge, the steel safety net of wires will be located far enough from the bridge to avoid obstructing views.

"We selected it because number one it is located below the sidewalk level so it doesn't obstruct views of the city or the bay and number two we put it down at an elevation where people will really have to think about jumping into it, because it's not going to be a soft landing," Eberle said.

On 13 October, the bridge authority invited companies to bid for the project. Getting funding has been a challenge; some critics say funds would be better spent for mental health care to prevent suicide attempts in the first place. Most people working on the bridge have training to help those in distress, and security patrol the site as well, but it's not been enough to stop the suicides.

According to officials in 2014, 38 people jumped to their deaths from the span. The Golden Gate is the second-most popular bridge for suicide in the world, after China's Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge.

"You know, what we're looking for is to deter people from jumping. We've done studies in Europe in Switzerland, Germany, also on the East Coast Ithaca by Cornell University they put up similar net systems where the nets have been installed it's deterred people almost 100% from actually even trying to jump off those structures," Eberle said. The authorities hopes the safety net will be in place by 2019.