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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Channel cleared after Baltimore bridge collapse

Officials announced Wednesday that the Port of Baltimore is fully operational after agencies finished removing more than 50,000 tons of steel and concrete from the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in March.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Roughly 11 weeks after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed, federal officials announced Wednesday that the Port of Baltimore's main channel has fully reopened.

Federal, state and local officials have been working to clear the channel of debris since the bridge crumpled after a Singapore-flagged container ship struck it in March. 

“This is a key milestone, an extraordinary moment,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters on Tuesday.

Six people died when a large portion of the 1.6-mile bridge, part of the heavily traveled Interstate 95 corridor, collapsed from the collision. 

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski said the collapse was “a tragedy of unprecedented proportions.”

“It has been a difficult 11 weeks,” he said in a news conference Wednesday. “But it’s also been an 11 weeks where we’ve shown incredible strength, resilience and through which we’ve shown the entire world just how amazing our communities are in the Baltimore region.”

President Joe Biden has pledged that the federal government will fully pay for the reconstruction effort, which Maryland officials recently estimated could cost between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion and take four years.

“Our hearts remain with the families of the victims of the bridge collapse, and we will continue to stand with the community throughout this period of recovery,” Biden said in a statement. “Baltimore can count on us to stick with them every step of the way, and we will continue to have your back until the bridge is rebuilt.”

Despite Biden’s promises, Congress has not acted to appropriate funding for the rebuilding effort, primarily because of Republican objections to the federal government footing the entire bill. The GOP has argued that the shipping company should contribute to the cost, but the Biden administration has said rebuilding can’t wait for a determination of liability.

Major General Butch Graham of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers said he expects the Corps’ costs for the cleanup effort to be $75 million. Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath of the U.S. Coast Guard said his branch has incurred about $24 million in costs.

Some parts of the channel were reopened in phases as the cleanup progressed, but Graham said the channel was fully cleared on Monday.

Natalie Quillian, deputy chief of staff at the White House, said the clearing was a “highly complex operation” that took multiple agencies to remove more than 50,000 tons of steel and concrete.

“This effort represents government at its finest and the remarkable things we can accomplish when we work together,” she said.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld expressed confidence Wednesday that the port will soon reach pre-collapse operational levels. The port saw the 17th-most business nationwide in 2021, handling more than 37 million tons of cargo and supporting more than 15,000 jobs.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore said the channel was cleared “faster than many could have ever anticipated.” Thousands of people helped make it possible, he said.

“This is government cooperation at its best — we can get big things done when we work together,” he said. “With the channel now fully open, we can get more Marylanders back to work at the Port of Baltimore, increase the flow of commerce through the city, and accelerate our economic recovery. But our work is not over until we rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge.”

Moore said the recovery effort included economic support for businesses to protect 3,000 jobs against layoffs. The support of the federal government through advisers, coordinators and $60 million in quick funding was indispensable, he said.

“I could not be more proud of this team. I could not be more proud of this state,” he said. “Today didn’t just happen. We made today happen.”

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