Boaters wondering if new bridge schedule is being adhered to
It’s a plan designed to figure out how to balance boat traffic and train traffic through downtown Stuart in the future.
But right now, it doesn’t appear the plan is being followed.
Scott Watson has business interests in both Indiantown and Port Salerno, and both rely on consistent access to the water.
That means boats need to get through the St. Lucie River railroad bridge, and right now, it’s not an issue.
“The bridge has been operating as it has for the last 96 years in the default up position,” said Watson.
But that’s actually not what should be happening.
On June 21, the Coast Guard implemented a new schedule where the bridge would be opened for 15 minutes at 15 and 45 past the hour.
It also required the train operator, Florida East Coast Railway, to hire a bridge tender to keep track of the train and boat traffic.
Monday afternoon, WFLX watched for several hours as the bridge did not come down once.
Right now, Brightline is not running any high-speed tests through Martin County.
Watson’s not complaining.
He was one of 15 marine business owners who had sued FEC, the Coast Guard, and Brightline back in May over access to the water.
He said the lawsuit has been dropped for now.
“When the Coast Guard came out with new test regulation schedule of two 15 minute openings per hour," said Watson, "we felt that was adequate for the navigation that we needed for the boating community.”
Congressman Brian Mast, who spoke at the city of Stuart Commission meeting Monday, said the situation right now is either holding the waterway hostage or holding the local vehicle traffic on the roads hostage.
He said as for a new railroad bridge to be built, which some had hoped, he was told it’s not coming anytime soon until Brightline’s Phase 2 is successful from Orlando down to Miami.
WFLX reached out to both the Coast Guard and Brightline about the current situation.
The Coast Guard said this test period will allow them to gather more real-world information.
The agency added in a statement:
"The Coast Guard is adhering to the regulatory process established by Congress, and we will continue to work with stakeholders, remain transparent, and consider multiple interests while ensuring safe navigation and reasonable access for mariners."
Brightline replied with the following response with regard to the new schedule rules:
The temporary deviation issued by the coast guard was done unilaterally and without authority or regard for due process. As written, it is deeply flawed and will result in dramatic impacts to local traffic, create safety issues for the public, and is impossible for freight and passenger railroad operations to comply. We will continue to pursue reasonable and equitable resolutions to the issue of bridge operations and simultaneously continue to encourage progress toward the ultimate solution which is the development of a new bridge and a Treasure Coast Brightline station.
With regard to high speed testing in the area and work being done on the St. Lucie Bridge, Brightline told WPTV the following:
FECR, Brightline, USCG and the FRA are engaged in a collaborative dialogue to establish a framework for operations at the St. Lucie Bridge that will result in safe, reliable and equitable use by the marine and rail industry. We are confident a resolution can be found prior to Brightline’s scheduled Orlando launch. The consensus of the USCG, FRA, FECR Brightline and many in the local community is that a permanent solution crafted around a new double track bridge that widens the marine passage and allows over 90% of current boat traffic to pass without opening is in the best interest of enhanced utility, safety and operational flexibility.
Brightline also said they do not anticipate this to impact the launch of service to Orlando.
The current bridge schedule is in effect until Dec. 17 and the Coast Guard is taking public input until Aug. 4.
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