Boaters cautiously return to normal activity as New River drawbridge reopens

Life along the waters of downtown Fort Lauderdale resumed Saturday following the two-day shutdown of the New River drawbridge, though some boaters seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The drawbridge began “malfunctioning” Thursday morning, according to Fort Lauderdale police, closing for repairs and remaining in the down position until around 8 p.m. Friday night. It cleaved the east side of the New River — which connects with the Intracoastal Waterway — from the west side, leaving the many boaters who rely on the waterway for their livelihoods stuck in place.

“It was a bit of a horror show,” said Bill Walker, the CEO and president of The Water Taxi of Fort Lauderdale, which operates a dozen vessels that ferry passengers along the river and up and down the Intracoastal between Hollywood and Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.

Walker had to cancel multiple charters for wedding parties which he says he will not be able to reschedule. Meanwhile, the closure hindered his business’ regular water taxi service as well, and some customers placed the blame on him.

“I got a whole bunch of complaints,” Walker said. But Saturday was back to business as usual for the company.

Still, it remained unclear Saturday what caused the malfunctioning in the first place, what repairs were made, and whether all repairs were completed Friday night or if more will be necessary in the coming weeks.

Florida East Coast Railway Service, which owns the section of the railway on the bridge and oversaw its repair, did not respond to multiple emailed requests for comment.

Eric Rodriguez, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel Friday that he was told the problem involved the bridge’s braking system.

Regardless of what repairs FEC workers made, they seem to have done the job, at least for now.

The bridge is “back to being fully operational,” Ben Porritt, a spokesperson for Brightline, said in an email Saturday. He did not provide further details.

Brightline trains use the section of railway that spans the bridge. Those headed to Miami-Dade County faced delays Thursday morning but returned to regular service a few hours later, while the bridge remained closed to marine traffic.

As businesses along the waterway resumed normal operations Saturday, recreational boaters continued with their weekend plans.

William Howard, a captain who owns the fishing charter Fort Lauderdale Offshore, had worried Friday night that the closure would cause him to miss his vacation to Bimini, in the Bahamas, the next day.

Luckily, the bridge reopened Friday night, and Howard was on his way at 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

Though the issue is resolved for now, he thinks the return to normal isn’t good enough.

“This is a constant nuisance inhibiting a large volume of business,” Howard said in a text from Bimini on Saturday afternoon. The bridge either needs to be raised or a tunnel needs to be built to address the problem, he added.

Will those who lost business due to the closure receive some form of compensation?

Walker doesn’t think so.

“I don’t know, they don’t typically do that, those guys,” he said, referring to the FEC. “I’ll talk to them, see where it goes.”