SHINE — The Coast Guard has announced a summer pilot project that will prevent pleasure boaters from causing openings of the Hood Canal Bridge — which closes it to traffic — between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. daily from May 27 through Sept. 30.
If at least one hour’s notice is given, the bridge opens for boats that are too large or tall to pass under its trusses.
About half of them are Navy vessels — including submarines from Naval Base Kitsap in Bangor — which won’t be included in the pilot program and will continue to prompt bridge openings as needed.
It can take more than a half-hour to open and close the bridge, which connects Jefferson and Kitsap counties.
The delay backs up vehicles on the two-lane highway — which also snarls local residents’ access to driveways and cross streets, causing them to be late for appointments and work.
The pilot project will give residents some assurance they can freely come and go between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Summer is the busiest time for closures because more pleasure boats are on Hood Canal.
Last June, the bridge opened 29 times — 16 for recreational boats, 12 for Navy vessels and one for a test.
It opened 48 times in July — 22 for pleasure craft, 19 for Navy vessels, two for commercial boats and five for tests.
Only eight July openings occurred between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., and five of them were for Navy vessels.
The Coast Guard is accepting public comment on the pilot program through Nov. 30.
The move is endorsed by state Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval and Clallam County Commissioner Mike Chapman.
Chapman chairs the executive committee of the Peninsula Regional Transportation Planning Organization, which voted late last year to endorse the pilot program.
The planning group consists of representatives of cities, towns, counties, ports, tribes, transit agencies and major employers in Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap and Mason counties.
The idea to restrict passage to provide more predictability “has been kicking around” since the 2009 Hood Canal Bridge retrofit and replacement project, Chapman said in an interview Tuesday.
“The idea is predictability,” Chapman said.
Sandoval, also owner-associate at Windermere Real Estate in Port Townsend, said unexpected bridge closures have created problems for clients.
“There are always unexpected consequences,” she cautioned. “It will be interesting to see how it affects pleasure boaters.”
The move also was supported by 24th District state Reps. Kevin Van De Wege and Steve Tharinger, both D-Sequim, as well as state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, legislative spokeswoman Jennifer Waldref said.
The 24th District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County.
“It will allow constituents on the Olympic Peninsula to plan better around bridge closures,” Van De Wege said.
State Rep. Christine Rolfes and state Sen. Phil Rockefeller, both of the 23rd District, which includes Kitsap County, were driving forces behind the pilot program, the Coast Guard said, after complaints from residents along state highways 3 and 104 in Kitsap County about traffic congestion and safety problems.
Rockefeller said Tuesday that the Coast Guard rejected proposals to increase hours for the program, including morning commuting hours such as 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Sandoval said there probably are not as many pleasure boaters early in the morning compared with late afternoon.
Comments on the program can be submitted at www.regulations.gov.
Click on the box marked “Submit a comment,” which will then become highlighted in blue.
In the keyword box, insert “USCG-2011-0314,” click “Search,” and then click on the balloon shape in the “actions” column on the lower right.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at [email protected]