What does a Bridge Operator do?

Diane Goettel

A bridge operator is a person who is responsible for the management of a bridge. The most common kind of bridge that requires an operator is a drawbridge, a bridge that lifts up and away from the water in order to let ships and boats pass through. A bridge operator also oversees repairs and electrical work that the bridge requires.

Bridge operators must ensure that all traffic is clear before lifting the bridge halves.
Bridge operators must ensure that all traffic is clear before lifting the bridge halves.

Some drawbridges are rather small and need to be lifted even to left sailboats pass through. Others are quite large and are lifted only to allow large sea-faring vessels to pass. Large or small, drawbridges require operators to make sure that everything happens in a smooth and safe manner.

In addition to making sure that boats can pass through, a bridge operator must also make sure that there are no people, vehicles, or equipment on the bridge before it begins to lift. Even small drawbridges that are only intended for the passage of pedestrians must be lifted with care. All pedestrians must first leave the bridge. Then, it must be made clear that no new pedestrians can begin to cross until the bridge has been lifted, allowed the vessel to pass, and returned to its lowered position.

This process is a bit more complicated with bridges that are designed for the passage of vehicles. Before the drawbridge is lifted, the bridge operator must ensure that all traffic has been cleared from the bridge. Then, all new traffic directed toward the bridge must be halted. The bridge operator must make sure that no new traffic is entering the bridge from any direction and that there isn’t a single vehicle or pedestrian on the bridge before lifting it for ship or boat passage.

There are usually gates that are used in order to keep a bridge clear of pedestrians or vehicles prior to lifting. A bridge operator is responsible for making sure that these gates are in working order and that they are used properly when the bridge is being lifted. He or she may also be responsible for taking care of necessary repairs to the gates.

In the cases of larger bridges, the operator may have a staff to help with all of the duties related to managing the bridge. The size of the staff usually relates directly to the size of the bridge. The staff will assist the bridge operator in maintaining the safety and functionality of the bridge.

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Discussion Comments


For years, a drawbridge provided the southbound entrance into my town, and since the river is a busy one, the Department of Transportation had three bridge tenders on the payroll, with a substitute for holidays.

I got to know one of the bridge tenders and he told me about working in the "shack" or little house for the tender that sat right on the bridge, and watching the boats go through.

Sometimes as we sat on the bridge, waiting on a barge, we would get out of the car and walk to the side so we could see the boat pass.

My friend said being a bridge tender was a good job, but you had to learn to entertain yourself because it could be a little lonely in the shack for eight or ten hours at a time.

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