Federal agencies responding to Baltimore bridge collapse emergency

March 26, 2024

Officials in Maryland and the city of Baltimore have declared a state of emergency after the Francis Scott Key bridge partially collapsed overnight. The emergency declaration allows federal agencies to bring their resources to the rescue and rebuilding effort.

“We are working with an interagency team to quickly deploy federal resources from the Biden Administration,” Gov. Wes Moore said in the emergency declaration. “We are thankful for the brave men and women who are carrying out efforts to rescue those involved and pray for everyone’s safety.”

At about 1:30 am Tuesday, a large container ship named Dali struck a column supporting the bridge and causing it to crash into the water below. Two people have been rescued from the water, and search and rescue operations are ongoing to find six construction workers who were on the bridge at the time it collapsed.

During a press conference at the White House, President Joseph Biden said personnel from the Federal Highway Administration, Department of Transportation, Army Corps of Engineers and FBI are working on the response. The Coast Guard is leading the rescue efforts, he said.

“We’re going to send all the federal resources we need as we respond to this emergency,” Biden said. “The people of Baltimore can count on us, though, to stick with them at every step of the way until the port is reopened and the bridge is rebuilt.”

Before the port reopens, the shipping channel must be cleared. “We’re going to get it up and running again as soon as possible,” Biden said, noting that rescue efforts are the top priority, but the Army Corps of Engineers is ready to work on clearing the wreckage.

“Baltimore District navigation assets are in the area and postured to provide critical survey and debris removal capabilities,” a spokesperson for the Army Corps said in an email to Government Market News.

President Biden said “the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge.”

The Federal Highway Administration has an emergency relief program that is authorized by Congress with $100 million to aid in reconstructing highways that are damaged in natural disasters or due to “catastrophic failures from an external cause.” Through the ER program, the highway administration can quickly release funds in response to disasters. Last November, $3 million was tapped to repair a bridge on Interstate 10 in Los Angeles following a fire.

With rescue and cleanup operations currently underway, federal officials do not yet have an estimate of when the port will reopen or when construction will begin to rebuild the Francis Scott Key bridge.

The 1.6-mile-long bridge opened in 1977 and allowed vehicles to travel on Interstate 695 across where the Patapsco River flows into the Chesapeake Bay. About 30,000 vehicles use the bridge every day. Cargo ships also travel daily under the bridge in and out of the Port of Baltimore.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations said the cause of the accident is under investigation. The container ship crew reportedly lost control of the vessel and called local authorities just in time for them to close the bridge to vehicular traffic, the Associated Press reported.

Following the bridge collapse, the Port of Baltimore stopped all vessel traffic, and the Federal Aviation Administration is restricting flights and drone activity over the area so they do not interfere with ongoing rescue operations.

The port is the ninth-busiest port in the nation. It handles the import and export of more automobiles, light trucks, farm and construction machinery than any other port in the United States.

The port generates more than 15,000 jobs in the Baltimore area, and about $80 billion in cargo moved through the port in 2023, according to Governor Moore’s office. The port is also the site of a $550 million public-private partnership to upgrade equipment at the Seagrit Marine Terminal The port also received a $47 million grant in 2023 through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Photo by Patorjk

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