On an unseasonably warm summer evening last week, the traffic creeping north on 15th Avenue is horrific, per usual. And it will only grow more maddening, for at 6:03, the alarm blasts, the gates come down and slowly the Ballard Bridge groans upward. Forty-four feet below, two sailboats gingerly make their way under the up righted structure. Lucky devils. By the time the time 96-year-old bridge makes it merciful descent, our merry pleasure-seekers, the wind in their hair (a life without care) are happily on the way toward Puget Sound. For the rest of us, it is pure unadulterated gridlock.
Three times last week, the bridge, as if mocking us, opened at the stroke of 6 p.m., the hour in which marine traffic is allowed the right-of-way. This is federal law and the city of Seattle must apply to the U.S. Coast Guard to change the rules, which presently call for the Ballard and Fremont bridges – which, collectively, opened and closed 1,150 times in September 2012 – to be closed weekdays to boaters and commercial fishing vessels from 7 to 9 a.m., and 4 to 6 p.m.
As it stands now, there could be a traffic jam from here to eternity, and it wouldn’t matter. A solitary sailor takes precedence over us poor, harried motorists. The bridge can set at 4 and rise at 6, no matter how FUBAR the roadway conditions. All a boater has to do is contact the bridge by radio (Marine Band Channel 13), or by whistle signal – one long, one short – and presto, the bridge goes up.
Everyone knows, of course, that rush hour in this town remains at high tide at 6 p.m. Traffic is unbearable and it’s getting worse. There is not a reason in the world why the time can’t be extended – say, a mere half hour – to keep the bridge in a horizontal position.
Fact is, the city of Seattle can apply to the Coast Guard to change the rules – but it has not done so, Steven Fischer, Coast Guard District 13 bridge administrator, tells Seattle Weekly. “I know of no request from the city for a rule change,” he says.
So what does this city say?
“All I know is that it is a very lengthy process,” says Mary Brown, bridge operations supervisor for the Seattle Department of Transportation. “As it is now, the Coast Guard wants 90 days notice if we want to close the bridges for an extended time, like to do maintenance.”
Says Fischer: “To change a rule, it is a six-month process.”
“Well, yeah. First we need to get a formal request from the city or from WSDOT or whatever other agency, and then I take the request and generate a public notice that goes out in the Federal Register. And then there’s a comment period. It takes time.”
But, Fischer noted, it doesn’t have to be the city that need come forward to make this most commonsensical change on the bridge hours.
You and me can do it ourselves!
Fisher, bless him, steered us to this:
Title 33: Navigation and Navigable Waters Part 117 – DRAWBRIDGE OPERATION REGULATIONS
Subpar A – General Requirements
§ 117.8 Permanent changes to drawbridge operation.
(a) Anyone may submit a written request to the District Commander for a permanent change to a drawbridge operating requirement. The request must include documentation supporting or justifying the requested change.
(b) If after evaluating the request, the District Commander determines that the requested change is not needed, he or she will respond to the request in writing and provide the reasons for denial of the requested change.
(c) If the District Commander decides that a change may be needed, he or she will begin a rulemaking to implement the change. If the District Commander decides that a change may be needed, he or she will begin a rulemaking to implement the change.
“That’s right, any citizen can do it. Anyone can request a rule change by writing or e-mailing me,” says Fischer.
And here’s how:
Write to Steven Fischer at:
U.S. Coast Guard
915 Second Ave., Suite 3510
Seattle, WA 98174
or e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org