I was astounded the other day to drive across 520 and see the reader board announcing an opening mid-day on a weekend. In the past these seemed to happen at night or sometime when it didn’t impact me. Presumably this was by design. There’s been a change due to the construction activity and I got the following email from WSDOT that you might find interesting.
This is a follow-up to an April 5 press release (attached) we sent you regarding SR 520 construction on Lake Washington. We are operating under new Coast Guard requirements for boaters with vessels over 45 feet tall. Please see today’s attached traffic advisories regarding a bridge opening this afternoon.
Updated Coast Guard rules require WSDOT to open the SR 520 drawspan for tall vessels with advance notice. This requirement is in place because floating bridge construction barges block the eastern navigation channel near Medina, which has clearance for boats up to 64 feet tall. A majority of boats use the 45-foot-tall west navigation channel to pass beneath SR 520.
Drawspan openings this week and weekend
We have twice successfully avoided opening the SR 520 drawspan during the daytime by working with the contractor to allow some non-commercial vessels to pass by their equipment. This week crews are pouring the bridge’s first shaft anchor and positioning equipment for other anchors. There is too much construction activity near the Medina shore this week to make a safe path for boaters.
As a result, at least four sailboats with masts taller than 45 feet are expected to require daytime drawspan openings today, Friday and Sunday (April 19, 20 and 22).
Today at 12:30 p.m., we stopped motor vehicle traffic to allow a sailboat to pass through the SR 520 drawspan. Although the process of opening and closing the drawspan can take up to 30 minutes, we were able to accomplish it in 20 minutes. We worked closely to negotiate this midday opening to avoid more severe traffic impacts during the evening commute. We warned drivers using WSDOT’s many communications tools, including variable message signs approaching the bridge, mainstream and social media. Attached is the traffic advisory explaining the situation to media.
We are minimizing driver delays on Friday by opening the drawspan at 11 a.m. for two vessels, instead of doing two separate openings.
Balancing bridge traffic, construction and boaters
As the weather improves more drawspan opening requests will occur. WSDOT and the Coast Guard are working cooperatively to further revise the new requirements to strike the right balance to meet the needs of boaters while minimizing driver delays and maintaining construction progress.
Our construction equipment will be out of the eastern navigation channel during the first weekend in May, which is the official opening of boating season, so that vessels can pass under the bridge during this busy maritime weekend.
I will update you again in the coming weeks as we continue to work with the Coast Guard. Please contact me with any questions.
More information for drivers and boaters is available on our website: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520Bridge/BridgeAndLanding/DrawspanInfo.htm
Julie Meredith, PE
SR 520 Program Director
SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program
Washington State Department of Transportation
206-770-3568 direct | 206-770-3500 main
600 Stewart Street, Suite 520 | Seattle, WA 98101
Visit us at our Web site: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr520bridge/