SDOT is extending the public input period through October 15th on potential changes to the Ship Canal Bridges and opening restrictions related to them.
SDOT is seeking comment from the maritime community, and community members who drive, walk or bike, whether the City should seek US Coast Guard approval to change current rules on when Ship Canal bridges must be opened upon request. In addition, SDOT is interested in hearing what additional restrictions might be warranted, if any.
SDOT has received a high volume of public feedback and wants to extend the opportunity. Please visit this link to share your input: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/shipcanalOpenings.htm.
The City owns and operates the Ballard, Fremont, and University bridges, while the Washington State Department of Transportation owns and operates the Montlake Bridge. As the Ship Canal is defined by federal law as a navigable waterway, the US Coast Guard has regulatory authority over these bridges. A number of years ago the Coast Guard granted the City the authority to keep the bridges closed on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. (The bridges must still be opened during these hours for large commercial vessels.)
While the number of bridge openings has remained fairly constant in recent years, the impacts of bridge openings have become more pronounced and problematic, especially with longer morning and afternoon commute periods.
With the average bridge opening lasting approximately five minutes, hundreds of vehicles can back up for a given rush hour opening. The more cars, trucks and buses that back up, the longer it takes for them to clear. Buses run behind schedule, commuters find that it takes longer to get to work or back home, and many delayed drivers leave their motors running, spewing polluting emissions into the atmosphere.
SDOT expects to petition the Coast Guard for a change in restrictions on when these bridges must be opened upon demand but is seeking public input before doing so. Interested citizens are asked to share their thoughts with SDOT about whether expanded restrictions are warranted, and what they might look like.
As the graph below illustrates for the Ballard Bridge from August 20th to 26th, 2014, the number of bridge openings is greatest at the same time vehicular traffic is heaviest. For example, during the period from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., there were 11 weekday bridge openings that week, or an average of two each day, and approximately 61 percent of Ballard Bridge openings that month were for sailboats.
During that same one hour period each day, some 2,600 vehicles crossed the bridge. This situation leads to backups that often extend as far south as Dravus Street and as far north as NW 65th Street. These delays take considerable time to clear, sometimes occurring just as the next opening is requested.