View from both sides of the bridge July 22, 2015
The U.S. Coast Guard Bridge Branch has long been a proponent of resolution through communication. Staff regularly schedules meetings with MIASF representatives and ISS Facility Services, who are contracted to operate the bridges in Broward County. Also there is a very strong line of communication between the county staff and MIASF, as the county operates all the roadway bridges along the New River, with the exception of the Davie Boulevard bridge, which falls under ISS responsibilities as a FDOT property.
Meetings happen for renovation and repair projects, special closures for events, annual planning of the hurricane flotilla – in short for anything that might disrupt the ease of navigation of the waterway.
These Coast Guard meetings ultimately resulted in a luncheon recently hosted by MIASF, which invited the bridge supervisors and captains to discuss the world as they see it. The open dialog provided a view from the other’s perspective.
Captains were provided details of the tender’s responsibilities prior to opening the bridge. While it seems simple and straightforward the process of clearing the bridge of traffic and pedestrians can become complicated and require diplomacy. One of the examples given was getting the naked drunk man to get off the bridge so they could safely operate it. Several weeks later this was reinforced when a naked man road the FEC bridge to its open position, requiring fire rescue to resolve the problem.
Bridge operators must follow the law was stated more than once during the day. A sensitive issue is commercial vessels (tug under tow for example) calling for an opening during the rush hour lock downs. The perception was the tugs were taking advantage of the lack of additional traffic to make an easy transit on the river. The captains pointed out there are many reasons not exclusively tide related that a vessel is underway at a certain time. The unfortunate timing of a bridge opening during rush hour has a ripple effect on the tolerance of commuters and many times the unlucky bridge tender is subject to verbal assault as they express their frustration.
Captains discussed their frustration when a bridge opening is delayed, causing them to be off timing and resulting in missing the next bridge’s scheduled opening. While this is understandably frustrating, it is important to maintain the opening schedule, and altering the additional bridges would just further skew the timing going forward.
The most interesting conversation centered on the height of the vessel and the clearance of the bridge. Bridge tenders expressed exacerbation that captains did not know the height clearance of their vessel, did not lower movable equipment and requested openings the tender believed were not necessary. Tenders will not refuse an opening, but they will pass on the information to their supervisor, and abuse of the process can be reported to the Coast Guard. Captains relayed their experiences, relaying stories of sea trials on an unfamiliar vessel, not having complete confidence in the bridge measurement and the variables that can change how low in the water a boat will sit. There was also a discussion about the cost of damage to both bridge and vessel in the case of an error and the captain’s tendency to err on the side of caution.
The luncheon ended on a positive note with a commitment to meet again and continue the dialog. If you are interested in attending the next meeting, send your name and how your business utilizes the bridge system to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add your name to the invitation list when the next meeting is scheduled.