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Baltimore’s Key Bridge rebuild could take a decade, analysts say

A cargo ship is stuck under the part of the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after the ship hit the bridge Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Steve Helber
FR171958 AP
A cargo ship is stuck under the part of the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after the ship hit the bridge Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Baltimore, Md.

The Port of Baltimore port could be reopened in less than a year, but the effects on transportation and the timeframe to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge could take up to a decade, according to some analysts.

Currently, a nearly 1,000-foot-long ship is clogging the Patapsco River, along with the debris from a large portion of the bridge, after the collision on Tuesday morning.

Cleanup and port opening

The process to clean up the tons of materials in the waterway, which leads to the port of Baltimore, could take quite a while.

“It's weeks and months to remove the debris and reopen the shipping channel. I'd be shocked if it's weeks, but I don't think it'd take a year,” said Benjamin Schafer, Professor of Civil and Systems Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

During that time, the port could be closed, leaving about 15,000 port workers in limbo.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said he will sponsor emergency legislation to help workers in the wake of the collapse.

“The economic and stability loss to the thousands impacted in the days ahead cannot be understated,” Ferguson posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Today, with Del. @LukeClippinger and colleagues representing Port, we are drafting an emergency bill to provide for income replacement for workers impacted by this travesty.”

The port has far reaching economic tendrils, especially for the auto industry.

“I like to use a phrase that says the Port of Baltimore is the Taylor Swift of U.S. auto parts,” said Tinglong Dai, a professor of operations management and business analytics at Johns Hopkins University. “When she's not performing, the world, it feels a greater loss.”

Businesses are now figuring out how to reroute their materials from the port as it remains closed.

“We're going to see multiple routings happening in the coming months, if not the coming year,” Dai said.

However, Baltimore’s port will likely rebound.

“I do expect the Port of Baltimore to be able to recover relatively quickly,” Dai said. “I don't see the Port of Baltimore being replaced anytime soon. And it's if anything, it has been one of the rare success stories in the past few years. We have seen a lot of upgrades and a lot of improvements on the investments from the federal government, from the state of Maryland.”

Bridge rebuild

Getting the transportation system back to normal will likely take longer than getting the port back online.

Construction won’t be able to start until after the cleanup process.

“I've lived through quite a few civil infrastructure projects and they're rarely less than 10 years and the price tags have never been out of the hundreds of millions these days,” Schafer said. “In round number senses, it's not great.”

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the federal government would pay upfront for the cleanup and bridge to expedite the process and then worry about getting funds from the companies at fault later.

“Fifteen thousand jobs depend on that port and we are going to do everything we can to protect those jobs and help those workers,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday. “I’ve directed my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge. We’re going to work hand-in-hand to support Maryland in whatever they ask for.”

Biden said the debris will need to be cleared before the port can reopen and that the Army Corps of Engineers is on the scene to assist with the cleanup.

“It is my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge, and I expect the Congress to support my effort,” Biden said.

Schafer said a similar project, rebuilding Tampa Bay’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge which was hit by a freighter in 1980, took seven years.

Scott is the Health Reporter for WYPR. @smaucionewypr
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