United States

Port of Baltimore channel reopens to original specs

(The Center Square) – Fort McHenry Federal Channel, the commercial maritime transit through the Port of Baltimore, reopened Monday to original operational dimensions of 700 feet wide and 50 feet deep.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the final element to allow opening where the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed was removing wreckage at the 50-foot mud line. A survey followed, certifying the riverbed safe.

There remains ongoing removal of steel and surveying below the 50-foot mud line.

The Patapsco River channel was closed by a March 26 crash. The Dali, leaving Baltimore and bound for Sri Lanka, lost power and rammed into the bridge. The National Transportation Safety Board has not released information on the exact cause of electrical issues aboard the cargo ship.

Six people working on the bridge, a road crew filling potholes, were killed. There were no injuries aboard the ship.

Trucks as much or more than cars utilized the 1.6-mile Key Bridge – it carries Interstate 695 traffic on the southeastern loop of Baltimore – as a quicker way to bypass Baltimore. Average daily traffic was only 34,000. It was vital to trucks carrying hazardous material since they were prohibited from using any of the tunnels around the city, and the detour added about 25 miles daily, testified Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., in a congressional hearing Wednesday.

The Federal Highway Administration provided Maryland $60 million in emergency aid in response. There’s no official timeline for rebuilding the bridge; estimates are by 2028.

The Corps said the Unified Command of six agencies brought together 56 federal, state and local agencies represented by 1,587 individuals. There were another 500 specialists, 18 barges, 22 tugboats, 13 floating cranes, 10 excavators and four survey boats helping.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said the Port of Baltimore annually moves 52.3 million tons of international cargo worth more than $80 billion. A state website says the port generates $395 million in taxes, $2.6 billion in business income, and supports more than 15,000 direct jobs. In excess of 139,000 jobs are connected to work at the port.

The Port of Baltimore ranks first in the nation for importing and exporting automobiles, light trucks, farm and construction machinery, and imported sugar and gypsum.

In 2023, the port handled nearly 850,000 automobiles and light trucks, the most in America. The port also ranks second in the nation for exporting coal and sixth for importing coffee. The port leads the nation for roll-on/roll-off cargo.

The port’s proximity to the Midwest, especially Michigan, the epicenter of the automotive industry, makes it ideal for transporting automobiles and farm equipment.

Removal of wreckage began four days after the crash. Shallow-draft vessels were able to use three temporary alternate channels starting April 2. Containers on the ship started coming off April 7.

A limited access channel, 300 feet wide and 35 feet deep, opened April 25. A controlled demolition was executed May 13 due to a 10-million-pound piece of the bridge pinning the ship. A week later, the Dali was refloated and moved, clearing channel access to 400 feet wide and 50 feet deep.

The last major steel truss was taken away on Tuesday of last week.

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