River traffic generally has the right of way over road traffic, as a matter of law. The principle behind this rule is that the river was there before the bridge, so river traffic has priority. The US Coast Guard has given us permission to restrict openings of our four downtown drawbridges on weekdays during the peak commute hours of 7 - 9 am and 4 - 6 pm. That means river traffic has to wait unless there is an emergency. Before that, the restricted hours were 90 minutes in the morning and afternoon on weekdays. Extending from 90 minutes to two hours required a change in federal rules.
Bridge users should note that the Hawthorne Bridge opens much more often than the other drawbridges for two reasons:
- It is the lowest drawbridge so it needs to open for many vessels that can pass beneath other drawbridges without an opening
- It is so old that we need to open it every 8 hours, whether or not it needs to open for river traffic. Opening the bridge helps to re-grease the cables that pull the bridge open and prevents malfunctions when the bridge needs to open.
Because the Hawthorne opens so often, we installed yellow lights at each approach to the bridge that flash when a bridge opening is in progress, so that drivers have time to detour to a different bridge.