Why does WSDOT open the bridge for one boat which results in traffic backups?
WSDOT is following federal law. Under maritime rules, boats get the right-of-way over vehicles when bridges block the path of marine traffic. We understand it seems counterintuitive since there are more vehicles than marine vessels. However, long established law requires the Hood Canal Bridge and others like it (Title 33, Part 177 Draw Bridge Operations) to give marine traffic the right-of-way over vehicular traffic.
WSDOT has an agreement with the US Coast Guard to prevent some seasonal drawspan openings. From May 22nd to September 30th each year, private vessels (pleasure craft) are prohibited from requiring a drawspan opening from 3 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. daily which is during the peak afternoon commute.
The rule doesn’t apply to commercial, U.S Navy or other Department of Defense vessels.
How long does it take to open and close the Hood Canal Bridge?
The length of time it takes to open and close the Hood Canal Bridge for a marine opening can vary from about ten minutes to 45 minutes.
To open the bridge to allow marine traffic to pass (as required by the Coast Guard), WSDOT has three spans on each side that are hydraulically raised. Once they are raised, the floating spans can be retracted back under those spans to provide the opening. Depending on what type of vessel is passing through, WSDOT may only have to retract one side of the span. If it is a sail boat that darts through, we will only open one side and it will take less time for traffic to get moving again.
Submarines and the support vessels that accompany them take longer and require both sides to be retracted. Submarines are not very maneuverable on top of the water and they will request the opening early. Ahead of the submarine will be smaller escort vessels that cross through first and then the submarine. As soon as all the vessels are through, the operator will start the closure of the two 300-feet floating spans moving towards each other. These are massive and take time to get moving and then slow down until they are together and locked. A crew member verifies that the lock is engaged, and then the three spans on each end of the opening that were raised up for the opening, these will be lowered back down. Once they are in place, the gates can be opened to vehicle traffic.
If there are any malfunctions in the system, the process will take longer. There have been times when cars would not start after they stopped for the bridge opening. This can also cause a delay in the time to clear traffic.
Are there any regulations that dictate when the Hood Canal Bridge has to open?
Federal Law (Title 33, Part 177 Draw Bridge Operations ) gives marine traffic the right-of-way over vehicular traffic. It is the responsibility of the vessel operator to determine the need for a bridge marine opening and WSDOT must comply with the request for an opening.
To help mitigate for the higher level of marine traffic in the summer, WSDOT was successful working with the US Coast Guard to modify the federal rules related to marine openings for private vessels specifically at Hood Canal Bridge.
Between May 22nd and September 30th each year, private vessels are prohibited from requiring a marine opening between 3 PM to 6:15 PM daily. These specific hours correspond to the peak volume of traffic in the afternoon. The federal rule still requires marine openings for commercial and Department of Defense vessels regardless of time of day.
Why does the WSDOT Hood Canal Bridge camera go dark during a marine vessel opening?
WSDOT no longer shows ships or submarines passing through the Hood Canal Bridge due to Homeland Security regulations resulting from the attacks on 9/11. This is one of the increased security measures the Navy has put in place at the Hood Canal Bridge.
Is the Hood Canal Bridge a toll road?
The Hood Canal Bridge is not a toll road. A map of WSDOT toll roads and toll facility locations is found here. Information on WSDOT Tolling and Good To Go passes are found here.
I plan on taking my boat through Hood Canal and will likely need the bridge opened. Who do I call?
Anyone can request to have the Hood Canal Bridge opened by calling 360-779-3233. It is required to give at least an hour's notice prior to the requested opening time. More information can be found on the following WSDOT Movable Bridges website.
How do I receive notification if the Hood Canal Bridge is open or closed?
Updates about the Hood Canal Bridge are sent out through WSDOT’s GovDelivery system. Users can subscribe for free to nearly 200 specialized email or text alerts from WSDOT that alert travelers to current traffic conditions, construction updates, bridge closures and more. Click to subscribe to GovDelivery.
Please note that GovDelivery is disseminated as an email. Third-party providers then convert the email into a text, and send that message to subscribers. WSDOT has no control over how long the conversion and delivery process for text messages takes. Times will vary depending on an individual’s cellular service provider.
Drivers can also easily subscribe for Hood Canal Bridge text messages:
- Send a text message to 468311 with the words "wsdot hood"
- To unsubscribe send a text message to the same number with the words "wsdot stop"
Advance notification of scheduled drawspan openings can be found on the Hood Canal Bridge Area Traffic Alerts and Cameras web page. Listed openings are for commercial and pleasure craft only.
Under what weather conditions will the Hood Canal Bridge close?
Generally, the Hood Canal Bridge will close to vehicle traffic and may open the draw spans during storms involving wind speeds in excess of 40 mph that are sustained for 15 minutes or longer to relieve pressure on the bridge structure. The bridge may also close to drivers as conditions warrant. However, the direction of the wind can cause the bridge to be closed to traffic at a lower sustained wind speed if it is negatively impacting vehicle traffic crossing the bridge. Additionally, powerful Hood Canal tides can also play a role in the decision to close the drawspan to traffic.