The Coast Guard is extending temporary changes to drawbridge schedules for another three months to help alleviate traffic in Palm Beach when President Donald Trump visits Mar-a-Lago, according to a Department of Homeland Security report released this week.
The changes — which originally went into effect Sept. 1 — have kept the Flagler Memorial Bridge and the Royal Park Bridge open to cars longer on weekdays when Trump is in town.
The temporary changes expired Feb. 27, but the Coast Guard is extending them through May 31 to allow more time to assess reactions from the public and to possibly make the changes permanent, according to Lt. Ruth Sadowitz, chief of the Coast Guard’s Miami sector Waterways Management Division.
Before the change, drawbridges connecting Palm Beach and West Palm Beach had to be closed to cars twice an hour to allow boats to pass under, Sadowitz said. Under this temporary change, bridges will be closed just once an hour from 2:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays when Trump is in town.
Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio said she had discussions with Coast Guard officials as early as January 2017 about changing the drawbridge schedule and said she thinks the changes have helped traffic problems.
“As we go forward, it may need to be modified or tweaked,” Coniglio said. But “I personally believe it is an approach that is working.”
According to the report, the change was “necessary to accommodate the increase in vehicular traffic when the presidential motorcade” is on its way to and from Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago.
Motorists are often forced to use the Flagler or Royal Park bridges instead of the Southern Boulevard Bridge when Trump visits Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s almost motorcade exclusively uses the Southern Boulevard Bridge, closing the bridge and parts of Southern Boulevard anywhere from a few minutes to nearly an hour.
By now, Coniglio said, Palm Beach residents have learned to navigate the heavy traffic caused by Trump visits.
“We have implemented procedures to improve circulation,” Coniglio said, “and our residents are managing to adapt to when and how they make their driving trips.”
So far, the Coast Guard has received three public comments about the temporary drawbridge schedule change, all of which favor the change. The Coast Guard is asking for more feedback from the public.