What it takes to change a bridge timing

Coast Guard bridge timing
Traffic comes to a grinding halt and begins to back up when the Cortez Bridge, (shown), and the Anna Maria Bridge are opened to accommodate passing vessels. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Michael Lieberum, Chief of Bridge Operations for the United States Coast Guard’s Seventh District, explained last week how the bridge timing requests for two Island bridges will be processed.

On Feb. 13, Lieberum e-mailed the three Island mayors and informed them that Friday, April 14 is the deadline to submit public comment on the proposed reduction of bridge openings for four draw bridges along the Intracoastal Waterway. Dating back to 2015, the requests pertain to the Cortez Bridge, the Anna Maria Bridge and two bridges in Sarasota. The requests were made in order to reduce traffic congestion created by bridge openings.

“This is a pretty minor change, going from three times an hour to two.”
Michael Lieberum. U.S. Coast Guard

The proposed rulemaking calls for the bridges to be opened on the quarter hour and the three-quarter hour, from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m., when requested by passing boat operators. The bridges would still be opened at any time for an emergency vessel or a tug boat. The Island bridges being considered can currently be opened three times an hour from January 15 to April 15, and twice an hour for the rest of the year.

Public comments can be submitted and viewed at www.regulations.gov by entering “Drawbridge Operation Regulation, Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Sarasota, Fl.” in the website’s search engine. As of Monday, there were five comments posted, and all five expressed support for the change.

“We look at the comments. If there are no negative comments – nothing against the proposed rule – then there’s no real reason to have a hearing or a meeting. In most cases, there isn’t a public hearing” Lieberum said.

When asked about potential opposition from the boating community, he said, “This is a pretty minor change, going from three times an hour to two. I don’t expect a lot of pushback, but if there is, that will have to be addressed. If that happens, we’ll contact the local authorities and set up a public meeting. We wouldn’t do anything that wouldn’t involve the local politicians.

“If there’s nothing negative that needs to be addressed separately, we can move forward with the final rule. Then it has to go through the normal process: We draft it up and make sure the bridge owner, FDOT, doesn’t have any issues with it; then we move forward with processing the rule, which means going through the chain of command to Coast Guard headquarters, DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and then getting it to the Federal Register, which publishes whatever we provide them,” Lieberum explained.

“If there’s no pushback, we’re looking at the possibility of six or seven months. If there’s any pushback, then it’s going to take longer. This has taken awhile to get through for some reason, but I’m glad we’re finally at this point,” he said.