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Full shipping channel in Baltimore reopens nearly eleven weeks after Key Bridge collapse

The full channel of the Patapsco River in Baltimore where the Francis Scott Key Bridge once stood fully reopened Monday, almost eleven weeks to the day after a cargo ship struck a support pier of the bridge, collapsing a major portion of the 1.6-mile span in just seconds and killing six construction workers.

The collapse of the bridge caused shipping in and out of the Port of Baltimore, one of the nation’s largest, to be suspended. Smaller channels were opened in the weeks after the March 26th collapse as crews went through the work of removing the debris of the bridge. That allowed smaller ships in and out of the port. But the full channel — 700-feet wide and 50-feet deep — could not be reopened for the largest ships until all pieces of the steel truss were removed. Crews took away the final piece June 4th.

The ship Dali hit the bridge in the early morning hours of March 26th. Initial findings from the National Transportation Safety Board found that the nearly thousand-foot long ship lost power multiple times before in the hours before the allision. The NTSB and FBI continue to investigate. The Dali could not be moved until crews removed damaged cargo containers and portions of the bridge from its deck. Explosives were used to help that process on May 13th. A week later on May 20th, the ship was refloated and moved back to port. The ship’s 21-member crew had to stay onboard that entire time, including when the explosives were used.

“We’ve cleared the Fort McHenry Federal Channel for safe transit. (The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) will maintain this critical waterway as we have for the last 107 years,” said Col. Estee Pinchasin, Baltimore District commander, in a statement. “I cannot overstate how proud I am of our team. It was incredible seeing so many people from different parts of our government, from around our country and all over the world, come together in the Unified Command and accomplish so much in this amount of time.” About 50-thousand tons of bridge debris was removed by crews following the collapse.

A crew of construction workers were patching potholes on the Key Bridge at the time of the collapse. Six died, while one worker and a state inspector were able to be rescued. Traffic was stopped onto the bridge because of a mayday call made by the Dali in the minutes before the crash. The Key Bridge (I-695) was one of three interstate highway crossings of the Patapsco in Baltimore. Traffic has sharply increased for the other two — the Fort McHenry Tunnel (I-95) and Baltimore Harbor Tunnel (I-895) — since the collapse. The state of Maryland hopes to have a new span opened by the fall of 2028. President Joe Biden has committed to having the federal government pay in full for the new bridge, which could cost between $1.7 and $1.9 billion.

Matt Bush spent 14 years in public radio prior to coming to WYPR as news director in October 2022. From 2008 to 2016, he worked at Washington D.C.’s NPR affiliate, WAMU, where he was the station’s Maryland reporter. He covered the Maryland General Assembly for six years (alongside several WYPR reporters in the statehouse radio bullpen) as well as both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. @MattBushMD
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