New 520 bridge rules to impact boaters

Construction barges are in place at the east end of the 520 floating bridge. Photo courtesy of WSDOT

Boaters with tall-masted vessels will now have to plan ahead if they want to cross under Seattle’s 520 floating bridge. And more of them will have to have the bridge opened to get through.

Effective April 1, operators of vessels taller than 45 feet need to give 12 hours notice if they want to pass through the bridge’s drawspan between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays. Two hours notice is needed to arrange an opening on weekday nights between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. and on weekends, when there’s typically less traffic. Boaters can call 206.440.4490 to schedule an opening.

Vessels of up to 64 feet tall could previously cross under the 520 bridge at its eastern end, but there are now construction barges located there while a new floating bridge is built. Vessels up to 45 feet tall can still cross under the bridge on its western side.

The new rules provide more flexibility for boaters, since previously, Coast Guard regulations prohibited any openings of the bridge between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays.

And both the east and west navigational channels will be open on dates and holiday weekends when boat traffic is heaviest, including opening day of boating season and the Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Seafair and Labor Day weekends.

“Our goal is to strike a balance that keeps traffic flowing on the bridge, helps boaters navigate the lake and maintains progress on SR 520 bridge construction,” Dave Becher, WSDOT’s manager of construction engineering for the bridge project, said in a statement.

The new bridge is slated for completion in 2014, but the drawspan opening rules are expected to be in place until August 2015 as crews work to remove the old floating bridge from the lake. The new bridge will not have a moveable drawspan, but will be able to accommodate vessels up to 70 feet tall in the waterway’s eastern navigation channel.

About 20 vessels taller than 64 feet pass through the 520 drawspan annually after hours and on weekends, and WSDOT spokesperson Jeff Switzer said the department isn’t expecting to see a big increase in requests for bridge openings.

“We expect to see more requests, but we don’t expect to see a lot,” he said. “We’ll be tracking them and seeing what the demand is.”

WSDOT will be letting drivers know about bridge openings via electronic message signs on highways leading to the bridge. Updated information will also be posted on WSDOT’s traffic and travel alert webpages.

 

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