Martin County shares additional boat count data for the St. Lucie River Bridge; makes recommendations to ensure navigation with additional train traffic
Posted on February 25, 2016
By: Gabriella B. Ferraro
Martin County has released additional data regarding the number and type of vessels transiting the St. Lucie River at the antiquated Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) Bascule Bridge. The County has submitted this report to the United States Coast Guard (USCG) for the St. Lucie River Bridge rulemaking petition. This new information builds upon the initial vessel traffic data the County submitted to USCG in June 2015 in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the All Aboard Florida (AAF) passenger rail project.
USCG is evaluating establishing new operating rules for this bridge that will ensure the reasonable needs of navigation are met. The new rules are being established with the presumption the proposed AAF project will go forward. AAF proposes 32 passenger trains will cross the St. Lucie Railroad Bridge daily, plus additional freight traffic.
Data collected from a camera shows 90,808 total boats passing under the St. Lucie River Bridge from September 2015 to June 2015. The average number of crossings per day for the entire period of record is 209. Counts peaked between March and August with the average number of crossings exceeding 250 per day during this time. Conversely, counts were lower between September and February with an average slightly higher than 150 crossing per day. From a weekday perspective, both Saturday and Sunday counts were significantly higher than the other days.
Built around 1938, the St. Lucie River Bridge is the only movable bridge along the rail route that is to remain a single-tracked structure under the proposed AAF rail project. Projected increases in freight rail traffic, the proposed introduction of passenger rail traffic, accurate measures of current maritime activity and projections of future maritime activity are all necessary to ensuring the reasonable needs of navigation.
In addition to submitting this new data on the St. Lucie River Bridge, the County also makes recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure navigation in this busy channel:
* First, the County strongly urges that the St. Lucie River Bridge must be open no less than 30 minutes of every hour.
* Second, the County stresses that the USCG should not simply replicate its New River rulemaking for the St. Lucie River Bridge. Such a cookie cutter approach would not take into account the differences between the two waterways-from the characteristics of the bridge itself to vessel traffic mix to tidal conditions.
This half mile single track choke point will have a serious impact on maritime operations, and create railroad pressure to keep the bridge closed as much as possible.
Further, maritime traffic at the St. Lucie River Bridge is diverse-ranging from commercial tugboats pushing barges, to fishing charters, to personal vessels-and it has increased greatly in the 77 years since the rail bridge was completed in its current form. Transiting this waterway is challenging, as vessels must pass through three narrow and not perfectly aligned bridge openings within less than a quarter mile. Further, as with any choke point between large bodies of tidal waters, currents are strong except for brief windows during slack tide.
* Third, the County asks for an onsite, constant bridge tender for the St. Lucie River Bridge.
For more resources and information on the many local and regional issues of concern relating to the proposed AAF passenger rail project, including presentations, studies, letters of concern to state and federal agencies and more, visit www.martin.fl.us . In addition, please visit the County's social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, for updates.