Bridge controversy resurfaces
Alameda County has asked the United States Coast Guard for permission to leave the Fruitvale, High Street and Park Street bridges attended less than eight hours a day, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They want to pilot the idea starting in May or June.
The bridges would be opened during the off-hours only if four hours’ advance notice is given.
The Coast Guard has regulatory authority over the nation’s drawbridges. They were to post the proposed changes into the Federal Register, and people will have 90 days to comment on them.
“The use of the drawbridges has dropped pretty substantially in the past five or six years,” said Rick Ruiz, the Alameda County Public Works Department deputy director who is in charge of the bridge.
Commercial and recreational traffic under the three bridges declined by a third between 2005 and 2009, a presentation Ruiz gave at the Aeolian Yacht Club last week showed. Ruiz said the bridges are typically up just twice a day, and he said that in 2009, there were 75 days when the Park Street draw wasn’t raised at all.
A little less than half of the boat traffic under the bridges comes between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m., the presentation showed.
He said it costs north of $2.6 million a year to operate the bridges. County officials estimate they could save $600,000 a year if the new hours are put into effect.
But boaters seeking to keep the tenders on duty have argued that in addition to being available to open the draws, they protect the bridges and the areas surrounding them from crime, vandalism, jumpers and would-be terrorists.
“Whether it be a look out for safety concerns on the water or safety on the road, bridge tenders play a critical role,” the authors of a Save Our Bridges website wrote.
And they’re questioning whether a tender could be summoned even with four hours’ notice, or in time to properly deal with an emergency.
The site’s authors did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
Ruiz conceded that the bridge tenders do maintenance and other work besides raising and lowering the bridges. And he said the county’s plan – which has not yet been okayed by the Coast Guard – is a work in progress.
County officials had threatened last summer to keep the bridges up all night if the state carried out a plan to use $1 billion in gas tax money to balance its budget. The state decided not to take the money, and the controversy appeared to have petered out.
At that time, county officials had threatened to leave the bridges up because the Coast Guard could fine them for failing to raise the bridges. They told the San Francisco Chronicle that if they left the bridges down, they could face fines of up to $5 million a month.
Council members said at their meeting Tuesday night that they have some concerns about the county’s request, and they asked city staff to put together a letter to submit to the Coast Guard. And they questioned whether the plan would actually save the county any money.
Vice Mayor Doug deHaan said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting that he’s concerned about the proposed changes. But Mayor Beverly Johnson said the change could be a fair compromise with the county, which is facing the same budget problems as everyone else.
To comment on the proposed changes, send a letter to: Commander (dpw), Eleventh Coast Guard District, Bridge Section, Bldg 50-2 Coast Guard Island, Alameda, CA 94501.