Start of new bridge opening times still not clear
|Cortez Bridge and the Anna Maria Island Bridge routinely have long lines of traffic waiting at peak hours for bridge openings. (Islander file photo)
Exactly when the U.S. Coast Guard intends to change the drawbridge schedule at both the Cortez Bridge and the Anna Maria Island Bridge remains unclear.
But it will be soon, at least according to Michael Lieberum of the Seventh Coast Guard District in Miami.
The Coast Guard had hoped to implement the new times this month, in time for the busy winter tourist season. That effort, however, was apparently waylaid by an error in publication of the rules in the federal registry.
Lierberum said last week he has drafted the final rule for changing the regulations and it’s been "routed for approval," but he did not have a specific date for implementation.
"The Coast Guard understands that this is an important issue and will ensure that city/county officials in the area are advised as the process continues," he said.
"Once this document is published in the Federal Register, I will be able to provide you with the exact details and effective date for these new regulations."
Lierberum said he did not know when the order would appear in the Federal Register, which is published daily by the federal government.
In any event, it appears the new times might not be implemented this winter season.
The impetus to change the bridge opening times for the winter season came several years ago from the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials, primarily members from Longboat Key.
The BIEO wrote several letters to the Coast Guard requesting the change and, after several public hearings on the issue, the Coast Guard approved the change.
The new times were to have been in place by December 2006, but a publication error apparently forced the Coast Guard to re-advertise the change and invite further public comment.
A number of local boating and sailing organizations and individuals had opposed the new times, but motorists often caught on Gulf Drive south of the Cortez Road intersection during the winter season when the Cortez Bridge was raised had been just as vocal in support of the change.
Presently, the two bridges open "on demand" from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the hour and at 20-minute intervals. The new plan would establish 30-minute openings "on demand" between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. At all other times, the bridge is raised for boaters on demand. In emergency conditions, the drawbridge is raised as needed to aid any boater in distress.