Mayor Marion Barry said yesterday that the city will finish construction of an eight-foot suicide barrier along the Calvert Street bridge that was halted after strong opposition from neighborhood groups and preservationists.

"Life is more important than esthetics," Barry said.

In the last eight years, 37 persons have jumped off the bridge, known officially as the Duke Ellington Bridge, and a nearby span on Connecticut Avenue.

Opposition to the fence has come from City Council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), neighborhood groups and preservationists who have argued that such a barrier would be unsightly and would not stop those determined to jump from the Ellington bridge, the landmark arch over Rock Creek where most of the suicides have occurred.

James Morrison of the Kalorama Citizens Association said his group opposes Barry's decision.

The mayor said that the fence would be erected on a trial basis and that its effectiveness would be reviewed in one year. A spokesman for the mayor said he believed the fence would be completed only along the Calvert Street bridge and not the Connecticut Avenue span.

Three suicides at the bridge in late November and early December occurred after Barry and Smith halted construction of the fence. Smith, saying he hadn't realized the structure would be so high, suggested the city hang a net under the bridge to catch would-be suicides.

Benjamin J. Read and his wife, Anne, whose daughter jumped off the bridge six years ago, have led the fight to erect a barrier. Initially, the D.C. Department of Public Works supported the idea, despite a suit against the fence brought last summer by a group of area business leaders and preservationists.

Read said yesterday he and his wife were "very happy" with Barry's decision, saying, "We believe it will save lives."