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USCG seeks input to change rules about New River railroad bridge

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Update for Nov. 11 :

The USCG had originally scheduled similar public comment meetings, but so many people wanted to give verbal comments that it had to cancel them and find larger digs. So now the meetings are expected Nov. 12-14 in the communities where the three affected bridges are; in Ft. Lauderdale, that means Nov. 12 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Anne Kolb Nature Center at West Lake Park (751 Sheridan St., Hollywood).

Only people who have signed up can give verbal comments, but written comments are welcome. Send them to the Office of the Commander, Seventh Coast Guard District via e-mail to USCGD7DPBPublicComment@uscg.mil.

 

Original article posted Oct. 29:

I attended the public meeting yesterday about the proposed passenger train that will cause the bridge over the New River to close about twice as much as it is now. It’s time for the public to comment on this idea, and there were a good number of regular folks there, as well as the heavy hitters in the marine industry and representatives from many of the shipyards up river.

It was also filled with men in suits and ties, representatives from the various consulting groups that did work on the Environmental Impact Study that is under review.

And mingled in there was a gentleman in a bright blue polo who helped me see this issue in a new light.

Randall Overton is a federal permitting agent with the U.S. Coast Guard. And lest we forget, the New River is a navigable river, one of three that this train will cross on its three-hour trek from Miami to Orlando.

While the New River railroad bridge does not need any permits for this project (no changes will be made to it), it still needs USCG OK since it will impact navigation on the river.

And here’s where the marine industry has the best chance of getting what it needs out of this train issue.

Bridge operations are regulated by the CFRs, specifically 33 CFR 117. And like most bridges, the railroad bridge over the New River is regulated to open on demand, unless otherwise specified. Other bridges along the river (including the Third Avenue and Davie Boulevard bridges) have restrictions that prevent openings during rush hours (7:30-9 a..m. and 4:30-6 p.m.), unless under tow or in distress.

The railroad bridge doesn’t have any specific regulations on it, so it is simply open on demand. But since there’s much more river traffic than rail traffic (at the moment), it stays in the open position and closes when trains need to pass.

But we can see the potential problem here, right? Because of the way the federal rules are now, that railroad bridge could legally be in the down position all the time, opening on demand from vessels.

So the USCG is investigating whether to apply special regulations to that bridge, and it needs input from mariners to do that.

Under 33 CFR 117.8, anyone can request (in writing) a permanent change to a drawbridge operating requirement. If the district commander thinks it’s legitimate, a rulemaking process begins, a process that can take a year or so.

So anyone involved with the river — from mariners to businesses to residents on pleasure cruises — is asked to share their experiences. What problems do you deal with on the river at that bridge? How hard is it to navigate the New River through that bridge? How does the current impact navigation there?

Basically, what would help the most, is some sense of what mariners believe to be a reasonable expectation for the operation of that bridge, and why that is reasonable. Would you like to see it close on the hour and half hour for 10 minutes? Or some other timing or length of time?

“We’ve gotten a lot of complaints about that bridge,” Overton said. “We need balance. We need to ensure navigators can operate on that river in an efficient way and the railroad can continue to use the bridge for its purposes.”

The USCG had originally scheduled similar public comment meetings, but so many people wanted to give verbal comments that it had to cancel them and find larger digs. So now the meetings are expected Nov. 12-14 in the communities where the three affected bridges are; in Ft. Lauderdale, that means Nov. 12 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Anne Kolb Nature Center at West Lake Park (751 Sheridan St., Hollywood).

Only people who have signed up can give verbal comments, but written comments are welcome. Send them to the Office of the Commander, Seventh Coast Guard District via e-mail to USCGD7DPBPublicComment@uscg.mil.

But you can send comments in writing before then to the Office of the Commander, Seventh Coast Guard District via e-mail to USCGD7DPBPublicComment@uscg.mil.

Be sure to include who you are, what kind of vessel you operate and include especially what is reasonable (in terms of the frequency and length of bridge closures) and why you think that.

With enough feedback, the USCG can change the CFR to possibly make it against federal law to close that bridge too much.

All this from a guy in a bright blue polo.

Read more details: All Aboard Florida passenger train could double bridge closures

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Feel free to share your comments about this column below or at editorial@the-triton.com.

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