For the first time in years, the Coast Guard is considering changing the Stillwater Lift Bridge schedule this summer.
“The last time we looked at the schedule was like 20 years ago in the early 90s,” said Deputy Branch Chief William Knutson, who serves in the Coast Guard under Bridge Administrator Eric Washburn. “It’s been a long time.”
Last summer the Stillwater City Council requested the Coast Guard decrease the number of times the lift bridge raises each day from 21 to 16 on weekdays. Instead, the Coast Guard is proposing to adjust the schedule 19 lifts a day on weekdays.
The proposed change would relieve roadway congestion during peak traffic times. It would eliminate weekday lifts at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. It would add a lift at 3 p.m., and push the 5:30 p.m. lift back half an hour.
“Hopefully we minimize the adverse impact on everyone,” Knutson said.
Although the Coast Guard doesn’t operate the lift bridge, it is responsible for issuing permits and regulating the bridge. That’s why it’s involved in making the change.
“The Coast Guard has jurisdiction over all bridges over navigable waterways,” Knutson said.
The bridge schedule itself is governed by 33 Code of Federal Regulation Section 117.667, which specifically calls out the Stillwater bridge and sets its hours of operation. Per the regulation, the bridge must operate May 15 to Oct. 15 on a set schedule.
But the Coast Guard has authority to modify some of the rules by issuing a “temporary deviation.”
“The bridge administrator has certain leeway to change the rules or deviate from the regulations,” Knutson said. That authority is limited — he can’t simply shut the bridge down, for example, and changes he makes can only be temporary.
In this case, however, the deviation could alleviate some traffic congestion during the summer, and the bridge administrator could issue another temporary deviation next year. Once the new bridge over the St. Croix is complete, traffic will be diverted away from the old lift bridge.
Even after the lift bridge is open only to pedestrian and bike traffic, it will still need to operate according to the federal regulations, unless something changes.
For now, the Coast Guard has set a public information meeting next week to discuss the temporary proposed changes. The meeting is 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 16, at Stillwater City Hall, 216 N. Fourth St. Representatives of the Coast Guard will be present to provide information and accept comments.
Public comments can also be emailed to [email protected] or mailed to Commander, Eighth Goast Guard District, 1222 Spruce St., Room 2.1 07F, St Louis, MO 63103-2832.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]