East Coast Alerts

By Mel Neale

ICW Bridge Delays

As boats are heading south, many cruisers report that they are encountering unexpected delays caused when bridges do not open on request or as otherwise scheduled. An unexpected bridge closure can range from nuisance to hazard.

There are many reasons for this; a few follow. If, for example, a large tug and barge is unexpectedly told to stop at a bridge, it may be difficult, even impossible, for it to do so safely, particularly in narrow channels with current and/or wind. In order to do so, it may have to obstruct all ICW traffic. Another reason is that pleasure boats that miss planned bridge openings may be forced to be out in the dark in areas that are best traveled in daylight, or they may be trapped out in severe weather. Yet another reason is that in narrow channels with heavy current pushing a gaggle of boats toward a bridge, operating conditions for those boats, particularly ones with single screws and no bow thrusters, can become hazardous. This can be greatly exacerbated by high winds.

Except in certain unusual cases (such as unforeseen emergency) bridge schedules (or an “open on request” status) may not be altered without approval of the US Coast Guard. If permission is granted, the Coast Guard will post the information in Local Notices to Mariners and announce it twice daily in the scheduled Local Broadcast Notices to Mariners (VHF Channel 22A), and in regular Securitee Broadcasts announced on VHF Channel 16.

During the past few days we’ve been getting reports from boaters that various bridges on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway are being closed for maintenance, or that their schedules have been changed for post hurricane maintenance and/or inspection. We’ve checked into it for you.

The following is a list of bridges at which we’ve heard reports of unexpected delays or variations to schedules:

Little River Swing Bridge, SC Mile 347.3: This bridge was closed for maintenance for a few days, but appears to continue to have problems. We heard reports that it is opening intermittently every hour or hour and a half to let boats pass. It ordinarily opens on request. NOTE: The channel here is narrow with considerable current and a 65 ft bridge just a tenth of a mile north. There is also a marked obstruction (rock) on the ocean side of the channel just before the high-rise bridge, to make maneuvering even trickier. If you are stuck for a long wait, consider dropping the hook or tying up at one of the nearby marinas, as maneuvering with many waiting boats may be difficult.

Daytona Main Street Bridge, FL, Mile 829.7 and Memorial Bridge, Mile 830.6: Both bridges are reported to be under maintenance and/or inspection and are having intermittent delays in opening.

Jensen Beach Bridge, FL, Mile 981.4: The drawbridge is in open position and reported to be under demolition through April, 2005. The new replacement bridge here is 65 feet.

Indian River Bridge, FL, Mile 984.9: Reported to be opening only once an hour on the hour.

We spoke to Mike Lieberum, Bridge Management Specialist, USCG Miami, District 7, Bridge Branch, mlieberum@d7.uscg.mil.

He advised that he had no information as to the Little River Swing Bridge except that it had been restricted as permitted (and as announced) but that it now was up and running on its regular schedule. He gave us the name of the contractor. We talked with that company and they advised that it had been closed Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 25 and 26, but was operating on schedule with the possible exception that, because much new machinery was installed, an opening may occasionally take a “few minutes longer” as adjustments are being made.

Mr. Lieberum told us that the Daytona bridges were supposed to be undergoing work, but in an open position. He also said that the Jenson Beach Bridge was supposed to be left open because of the hurricane damage, and that the Indian River Bridge was “not supposed to be doing that,” and that he’d check into it right away.

There have lately been many complaints because of the addition of bridge restrictions in Palm Beach County. He said that these when these restrictions were added the test run assumption allowed a vessel making speed as low as 5 miles per hour to make the scheduled openings. He noted that in many of the affected areas, speed limits curtailed speeds to that approximate number already.

He said that the restricted openings are expected to extend in the near future down to Broward Country. This would cover points north and south of Ft. Lauderdale, as well as that city.

He said that boaters should report to his office when a bridge in SC, GA, or FL refuses to open as scheduled and permission has not been granted for the non-opening. Substantial fines can be levied against persons or entities causing bridges to remain closed when they are supposed to open. Obviously, there are many extenuating circumstances that could warrant exception and which we should all understand. Fines could apply to a boater making a false report, such as a report of a fake emergency, in order to get through a bridge.

It has been our observation that, while most bridge operators and contractors do the best they can to follow the regulations and keep things working in often difficult circumstances, some take it upon themselves to refuse openings unnecessarily and without seeking permission which means also that there are no Local Notices to Mariners or Securitee broadcasts which enable boats to better plan. If you encounter situations such as this, consider professionally and courteously asking the bridge operator if Coast Guard permission has been granted, if Local Notices to Mariners have been published and if Securitee broadcasts have been issued, and when. Consider also contacting the Coast Guard Bridge Branch for the appropriate Coast Guard District. The email address above should work for District 7, South Carolina through Florida. For northward, the initial contact would be Mr. Waverly Gregory, 757-398 6222, wgregory@LANTD5.uscg.mil, Bridge Branch Chief for the USCG Fifth District (Tom’s River, NJ south to the NC/SC line).

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale