Section 9 of the Rivers and Harbors Act (33 USC 491) prohibits the construction of any bridge, dam, dike or causeway over or in navigable waterways of the U.S. without Congressional approval. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) administers Section 9 and issues Bridge permits over navigable waters. Regulations for administering the law are in Navigable Waterway regulations 33 CFR 114 - 118.
When It Is Required
Anyone proposing to build a bridge over navigable waters must obtain a bridge permit from the USCG. Bridge permit regulations are found under 23 CFR 650. However, the definition of “navigable waters” that require a USCG bridge permit, found in Highway regulation 23 CFR 650.807, is slightly different from the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) definition found at 33 CFR 329.4. Navigable waters that require a USCG bridge permit are defined as “(1) tidal and used by recreational boating, fishing, and other small vessels 21 feet or greater in length or (2) used or susceptible to use in their natural condition or by reasonable improvement as a means to transport interstate or foreign commerce.” The USCG maintains a list of waterways for which the navigable status has been determined, but the list only includes waterways where a jurisdictional determination has been requested. USCG advises that if the navigability of a waterway is in question that a request for a jurisdictional finding be submitted to them. The size of a waterway does not determine whether it is considered navigable by the USCG.
A map depicting the Coast Guard list of waterways that have been determined to be navigable can be viewed here. Navigable Waters USCG.
For construction of new bridges or causeways, or for modification of existing bridges over navigable waters, project proponents must submit an application to the USCG District Commander. A pre-application meeting is recommended, but is not required. After early coordination, the applicant submits a package that includes plans with dimensions and navigational clearances and a project narrative to the USCG District Commander. There is no application form for this submittal. A detailed Permit Guide is available from the USCG.
After the application is submitted, the District Commander reviews it, and if any additional information is required, requests it from the applicant within 30 days. When the application is complete, the District Commander issues a public notice, and sends coordination letters and a Coast Guard Local Notice to Mariners. After reviewing comments, and allowing the applicant an opportunity to respond to comments, the District Commander may choose to hold one or more public hearings. After the public hearing(s), a permit is either issued or denied. Timeframes for review of applications and issuance of permits vary, but the regulation states the timeframes are three years for the start of construction and an additional two years for completion of construction.
Regulatory programs with overlapping jurisdiction with the Coast Guard Bridge Permit Program include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:
Army Corps Section 404 Permit: Army Corps permits for work in navigable waters cover both Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
Vermont Stream Alteration Permit Program: Vermont regulates alterations of all perennial streams, including navigable waterways.
Shoreland Encroachment: Vermont regulates alterations below the high water line of public water lakes and ponds.
For More Information
Commander, First Coast Guard District
Battery Park Building One South Street
New York, NY 10004-1466
USCG Bridge Administration Manual (Commandant Instruction 16590.5C)
USCG Bridge Permit Application Guide