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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

St. Pete's Bridges Raised Early, Stranding Drivers

ST. PETERSBURG -- Traditionally symbols of romance, St. Petersburg's bridges became objects of despair for those who unexpectedly found themselves stranded on the wrong side of the Neva River last week when city officials raised the bridges without warning.

The official navigation season, during which the Neva bridges are raised between 2 and 5 a.m. to allowing seagoing vessels to pass, usually begins May 5. However, 13 spans opened without warning on the nights of April 26, 29 and May 3, leaving many angry city residents stranded.

Officials of Mostotrest, which administers the bridges, said the early openings came at the request of the state-owned Volgo-Balt shipping company.

"We have an agreement, according to which we open bridges at the request of [Volgo-Balt] between April 10 and May 5," said Vladimir Zaitsev, head of Mostotrest's planning department, in a telephone interview Thursday.

And why were the bridges opened without warning?

Zaitsev said the openings were announced in the newspaper Sankt-Peterburgskiye Vedomosti, City Hall's official mouthpiece. A detailed survey of that newspaper, however, revealed no announcements about early bridge openings.

Several taxi drivers interviewed said that the unscheduled bridge openings took place without advance warning. It is unclear how many people were stranded on each side of the river in the wee hours.

Vadim Kluyev, head of the St. Petersburg department of Volgo-Balt, said that ships needed to carry lumber from Volga River ports in the Vologda region.

According to Kluyev, the exporters could not let the wood - which had been cut during the winter - wait in the Volga ports because of the unusually warm April weather.

"When it is warm, bugs make nests under the bark and thus spoil the wood," Kluyev said. "The exporters wanted to avoid this and deliver first-class wood."

Kluyev said Volgo-Balt did not pay Mostotrest for the unscheduled openings.

The bridges will continue to open from roughly 2 to 5 a.m. - inspiring strolling couples, amazing tourists and annoying late-night drivers - until the navigation season ends on Nov. 30.