The rush hour commute in North Beach is expected to become a little less irritating after the U.S. Coast Guard starts to lock down the 63rd Street drawbridge during peak traffic times next month.
The Coast Guard is set to publish a new rule on Wednesday establishing two periods during which the bridge, which crosses Indian Creek, will not be opened for vessels: from 7:10 a.m. to 9:55 a.m. and from 4:05 p.m. to 6:55 p.m. Between the morning and afternoon commuter rush periods, the bridge will open only on the hour and half-hour.
New regulations also include a special provision for the seven days leading up to and the four days after the Yacht and Brokerage Show, which is held each February and requires the movement of several vessels down the creek. During those days, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the bridge will open for 10 minutes at the top of the hour.
The new rules will take effect July 8. Currently, the bridge opens on demand, and that can lead to cars stacking up on Indian Creek Drive and Alton Road.
Rod Elkins, a Coast Guard bridge management specialist, said studies of both vehicle and boat traffic showed the lockdown periods will help motorists without hurting boaters.
According to city traffic figures, vehicular traffic increases 45 percent during the proposed rush-hour lockdown periods with no corresponding increase in vessel traffic.
After Commissioner Micky Steinberg raised the traffic issue last year, the Coast Guard began to study the problem. A federally required public comment period from February to April yielded about 500 responses from residents, the vast majority of whom supported the changes.
Elkins said that regardless of the time of day, the bridge still must open for emergency situations.
“We’ll still open for tugs and tows, emergency vessels, the fire boat, Coast Guard, and law enforcement,” he said.
While the bridge might make the commute somewhat better, a city utilities project on the west side of the bridge will still create bottlenecks until August. A project to replace a water main is supposed to be done by Aug. 1. The city’s public works department is trying to finish the project earlier.