Seven times last weekend, the Goodtime III idled for more than 20 minutes, waiting for the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge to lift over the Cuyahoga River. That waiting added up to more than a third of guests’ total time on the cruise ship, said Captain Jordan Kit.
But more concerning than inconveniencing passengers, Kit said, is the “really dangerous traffic situations” the bridge creates. When it finally lifts, a glut of boats guns it into oncoming traffic, in front of the Goodtime, in and around kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders.
“We’re playing hot potato before we have a really serious incident on our hands,” Kit said.
Complaints about the wait at the bridge are a common refrain at Cuyahoga River Safety Task Force meetings, attended by the freighter industry, recreational boating representatives, rowing groups and more at the U.S. Coast Guard station in downtown Cleveland.
RocktheLake launched a live webcam aimed at the bridge, so boaters can see if the bridge was up or down.
Norfolk Southern has promised improvement, and started lifting the bridge halfway, to let boats cross more easily between the Cuyahoga and Lake Erie. The bridge lifted 14 times on Memorial Day. But boaters say wait times are not much better now than in previous years.
“We are trying,” said Norfolk Southern attorney Casey Talbott. “We hope you’re going to see improvement as the summer goes along. Throughout June it wasn’t where we’d like to see it.”
The Nautica Queen says the boat regularly gives bridge tenders a half hour warning. But when they arrive, they’re told it’ll be another half-hour wait. The bridge tenders have to get approval from dispatchers in Dearborn, Michigan, before raising the bridge.
“Most of the time they don’t know, which causes a lot of frustration and difficult situations,” Nautica Queen Captain Susan Scott said.
Exacerbating the problem is kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders who may not understand the danger of getting close to freighters on the water, boaters who tie up marine radio channel 16 with bridge gripes and power boaters who tie up in red No Docking zones.
There has been little enforcement of the ban thus far, task force members said. Cleats remain on the bulkheads.
“When the paint was wet nobody docked there,” said Drew Ferguson of the Phastar Corp., whose Cleveland Metropolitan School District students are helping patrol the river this summer. “But since then it seems like a pretty place to tie your boat up.”
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