Boaters vs. Brightline, fighting to divvy up time getting over and under one bridge

(As originally published with bells and whistles, Fri, June 10th 2022, 4:31 PM EDT)

STUART, Fla. (CBS12) — It’s boaters on one side and the railroad on the other, of the St. Lucie River in Martin County. The Coast Guard will make the final decision on who gets what, but Rep. Brian Mast (R-18th District) has a strong opinion.

Friday, with the bridge in the background, the congressman made it clear he’s on the side of the boaters and he asked the public to make their positions known.

The Brightline commuter rail runs from Miami to West Palm Beach, and it’s being expanded to Orlando, which will mean more trains crossing the Roosevelt train bridge. That’s U.S. 1 in Stuart.

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But more trains mean the train bridge will have to be in the “down” position, perhaps 45 minutes of every hour, and boaters may not be able to get through.

Rep. Brian Mast, R-18th District, with the Coast Guard’s QR code in front and the Roosevelt Bridge in the back, June 10, 2022. (WPEC)

“They don’t have the right to shut down our waterway to reach their business model,” he put it.

He insisted closing off access to boaters is a very big deal for the community, and there are two main issues: safety and fairness.

“Water has the right of way. That is a fact,” Mast said, calling for the Coast Guard to respect a rule also used in other parts of the country. Simply put, the water was there before trains, so the water has right-of-way. He added that on land, there were trains before roads, so trains have the right-of-way.

Rep. Mast suggested boaters get 45 minutes per hour to cross without a ceiling and trains take just 15 minutes.

He said people live in the area for the water and the weather and estimated there are 16,000 registered boats in Palm City alone, and every one of them would have to get through to get to the open ocean.

“You do get a large backup of boats,” he explained, saying depending on the tide, when the bridge is down, there may only be six feet between the water level and the bridge.

REMEMBER? Roosevelt Bridge closed due to cracks, not in danger of ‘imminent collapse’

Then, there’s the width.

“It’s a very narrow channel going underneath the train bridge, about 50 feet,” which makes it difficult for two boats to pass at the same time.

“What about when everyone’s coming home in the evening at 5, 6 o’clock, trying to make it into the boat launcher before the sun sets and the danger that occurs when the sun goes down?” he asked.

Rep. Mast also mentioned boaters in a rush when the weather turns bad, and law enforcement having trouble getting their boats to the other side.

He also said he’s worried if Brightline takes the last 45 minutes of one hour and the first 45 of the next.

“That would be devastating to our community,” the congressman explained if there’s an hour and a half of some boats not being able to cross.

The Coast Guard is taking public comments about what should happen with the train bridge and how the time should be divided.

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The sign on Rep. Mast’s podium had a QR code that links to this page where you can make a public comment.

The congressman said he doesn’t like the question and blames the Coast Guard for the wording, saying it was “skewing the study,” but he encouraged everyone to send in their opinions and to be very specific about any sort of impact.

He said the bottom line is, “The Coast Guard is literally writing the rule on this, and they have the final say.”

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