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Regular openings of Elizabeth River drawbridge to be halted

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The drawbridge over the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River won't get regular openings, at least for four months. The Coast Guard is announcing in the Federal Register of Monday, July 14, 2014 that it is testing a new schedule for the bridge over the next four months to see if a change should be made permanent. The test starts at 6 a.m. Monday Aug. 4 , 2014 and runs through midnight on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014. The bridge goes over the Virginia State Route 175 Bridge across Lewis Channel and Black Narrows at mile 3.5, in Chincoteague, Va.

The Coast Guard is also taking comments on changing the schedule through Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. Send them electronically to http://www.regulations.gov, or fax them to (202) 493-2251. You can also mail or hand deliver your thoughts and suggestions to Docket Management Facility (M-30), U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590-0001. Deliveries are accepted 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays except federal holidays. Refer to docket number USCG-2014-0483. If you have any questions about submitting comments, call Program Manager Cheryl Collins at Docket Operations, (202) 366-9826.

If you have any questions about the schedule change, contact Bridge Specialist Kashanda Booker, Fifth
Coast Guard District, (757) 398-6227, Kashanda.L.Booker@uscg.mil. The Coast Guard does not currently plan a public meeting to discuss the schedule but it will consider one if someone requests it in writing by Oct. 2.

The Virginia Department of Transportation owns and operates the bridge. It asked the Coast Guard to test the new schedule. The state built the single-leaf bascule bridge in 2011 to replace a swing bridge downstream. The new bridge improved channel access for boaters and reduced the number of bridge openings needed.

When closed, the bridge has a vertical clearance of 15 feet above mean high water. The Coast Guard has been using the same opening schedule since 2006. It opens the bridge on demand between midnight to 6 a.m., and every one and a half hours from 6 a.m. to midnight (at 6 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 9 p.m., 10:30 p.m., and midnight) It doesn't open the bridge between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July.

But since the bridge is the only way to drive to the tourist destination of Chincoteague Island from the mainland and boat access has been improved, the state wants to test a schedule of reduced openings. It proposes to replace the scheduled openings with “on demand” openings only.

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