Transportation officials from the District, Maryland and Virginia called yesterday for permanent restrictions on the timing of openings of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge drawspan, where malfunctions led to traffic gridlock this summer on the Capital Beltway.
They also asked the Coast Guard to stop opening the bridge for recreational boaters.
The officials, represented at a conference in Alexandria conducted by the Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation, asked federal officials to continue emergency restrictions, set to expire Sept. 21, until all electrical and mechanical problems at the bridge are repaired.
District officials, who operate the bridge, said yesterday those repairs likely will take five months to complete. Officials said initially that the repairs would be finished in 60 to 90 days.
"I-95 is the Main Street of the East Coast," said Neal Pederson, representing the Maryland Department of Transportation. " . . . The impact of the drawbridge openings on the Eastern Seaboard's most critical highway link is untenable."
Under the emergency regulations, most vessels too tall to clear the 50-foot vertical distance from the water to the bridge can ask for the drawspan to be raised between midnight and 4 a.m. on weekdays if they give two hours' notice. The drawbridge also can be opened at noon each weekday with an hour's notice.
On weekends, the drawbridge can be opened between midnight and 6 a.m. with two hours' notice, and between noon and 9 p.m. with an hour's notice.
In addition to urging federal officials to continue the emergency restrictions, transportation officials asked the Coast Guard to stop opening the drawspan for recreational boats.
The officials asked that the federal government permanently limit openings to only commercial, military and ceremonial marine traffic with advance notice between midnight and 4 a.m. Several other groups, including the AAA Motor Club and the Greater Washington Board of Trade, supported the time restrictions.
A group representing pleasure boaters offered a far less restrictive approach. The Boat Owners Association of the United States asked that the bridge be opened for ship traffic at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 8 p.m., 10 p.m., midnight and 2 a.m. on weekdays. On weekends, the association asked that there also be additional openings at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The association opposed restrictions on openings for recreational water traffic.
James Boatner, president of Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corp., a newsprint storage and handling plant on the Alexandria waterfront, said the temporary restrictions have created problems for the company.
Boatner said his firm, owned by The Washington Post Co., could deal with another 60 days of the emergency guidelines, but requested that opening time begin at 9 p.m. rather than midnight.
" . . . If bridge regulations become too restrictive, the very high daily cost of operating a large vessel will mean that at some point use of the Potomac River will simply cease to be a viable means of commercial transportation," he said.
Coast Guard officials said yesterday that within two weeks, they plan to make recommendations to their district commander, who will make the final decision about whether to extend the emergency guidelines.
George Schoene, of the District's Public Works Department, said the more than 160,000 motorists who cross the bridge each day must be considered.
Schoene said that during a July bridge malfunction, several angry motorists forced their way past barriers before the bridge could be locked down. The result "could have been catastrophic" with motorists literally driving off the opened bridge into the Potomac.
"We are concerned about the level of frustration," Schoene said.