Getting There: Why should cars have to wait for boats?

by Tim Flanagan on September 29, 2009

Thanks to BitterEnd for the tip on this story by Scott Gutierrez over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:


"Why are drivers throughout the day forced to wait for sailboats passing under the Fremont, population health Ballard, health care and other bridges?" asks David Tagliani, resuscitator sharing a sentiment felt by many drivers who get caught in bridge traffic.

"Every time it happens I can’t help think about the thousands of dollars worth of gas going up in smoke, much less the wasted time as hundreds of drivers sit waiting — and lastly the environmental impact of all those exhaust pipes. Is it possible to limit these openings to certain times of the day and /or stack them up so a number of vessels all pass through at the same time?"


John Buswell, roadway structures manager for the Seattle Department of Transportation, explains why drivers have to wait.

"We agree it can be frustrating to wait the four to six minutes, on average, that it takes to complete an opening of a bridge on the Lake Washington Ship Canal," Buswell says. "However, we are bound by federal law to give vessels the right-of-way; the reason being that marine travel and transport was "first in time" before the automobile. The Coast Guard permit that allows us to operate a movable bridge across the Ship Canal requires the city to raise the bridge for any vessel that makes a request for an opening. Seattle was successful in securing an exception to this regulation during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., we do not open for smaller vessels, only vessels of 1000 gross tons or larger.

"Whenever possible, the bridge operators will hold one vessel while waiting for other vessels to approach. However, Coast Guard rules only allow us to delay a vessel for up to 10 minutes.”

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