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By Lucy Chabot Reed
After a six-month trial period last year, the U.S. Coast Guard signed a final rule on Aug. 22 for the Florida East Coast Railway railroad bridge that crosses the New River in downtown Ft. Lauderdale.
Effective Oct. 24, this rule requires the bridge operator to ensure that adequate notice of bridge closure times are available to the waterway traffic. It also changes the schedule from requiring openings “on demand” to an operating regulation requiring the bridge to be open no fewer than 60 minutes in every two-hour period.
The bridge became a sticking point for the high-speed train proposal from All Aboard Florida, which proposes to offer passenger service on the FEC railroad tracks from Miami to Orlando. The railroad crosses the New River downtown. Originally built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1978, the bridge takes several minutes to close and must be closed in advance of an approaching train. Adding passenger rail to the corridor would require more bridge closures, and concerned the marine industry. In its closed position, it has a vertical clearance of 4 feet at mean high water, requiring it to be open for nearly all marine traffic. It stayed open and only closed for train traffic, but the CFRs regulating this bridge permit it to be in the closed position, opening on signal for the passage of marine vessels.
The USCG aimed to change the rules regulating the bridge before passenger rail begins. All Aboard Florida would require an additional 16 closings of this bridge over the river.
Under the new rule, the bridge owner can continue to operate the bridge remotely with assistance from the onsite bridge tender. Additionally, due to what the USCG stated as a large number of concerns regarding the noise of the bridge horn blast, prior to a bridge closure, the rule states the horn will not be required since the bridge will be unmanned.
The USCG received 319 comments concerning the proposed rule. This rule, published in the Federal Register on Sept. 23, can be viewed by visiting https://www.federalregister.gov and searching for “New River Ft. Lauderdale”.