April 21, 2024

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The collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge lies on top of the container ship Dali in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 29, 2024. 

Mandel Ngan | Afp | Getty Images

The collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge on Tuesday is likely to send shock waves across the U.S. economy, as a key shipping route for certain goods remains snarled for the foreseeable future, officials said Sunday.

“This is not [just] a Baltimore catastrophe, not a Maryland catastrophe. This is a national economic catastrophe as well,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The channel that’s now blocked by the wreckage is a primary access point for the Port of Baltimore, which Moore described as among the “busiest [and] most active” in the nation.

“This is going to impact the farmer in Kentucky. This is going to impact the auto dealer in Ohio. This is going to impact the restaurant owner in Tennessee,” he said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg echoed that sentiment.

“It’s important not just to the people and the workers of Baltimore, but to our national supply chains to get that port back up and running as quickly as possible,” Buttigieg said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The bridge collapsed Tuesday after a large cargo ship crashed into it, following a mayday call shortly before the collision. Two construction workers died; four are missing and presumed dead.

An operation to remove the ship, clear out debris and reopen the channel began Saturday, officials said.

“Parts of the non-federal channel are already being worked on and there is a 1,000-ton-capacity lift crane on a barge being put into place now,” Buttigieg said. There’s another 600-ton crane on the way, he added.

There isn’t yet a timeline for that salvage work to be completed, Buttigieg said. The time frame for the bridge to be rebuilt is also unclear, he said.

Federal and local officials reiterated that the operation would be lengthy and complex.

“We have a ship that is nearly the size of the Eiffel Tower that is now stuck within the channel that has the Key Bridge sitting on top of it,” Gov. Moore said. “And so this is going to be a long road … But movement is happening.”

Why Port of Baltimore is so important

The Port of Baltimore processed a record 1.1 million containers of cargo in 2023, according to state data. That made it the ninth-busiest port in the nation based on U.S. trade volume, wrote Ryan Petersen, chief executive of Flexport, a supply-chain logistics company.

It also handled nearly 850,000 shipments of cars and light trucks in 2023, more than any other port for the 13th consecutive year, according to state data.

“This port is the number one port for cars and farm equipment,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

“So this matters to folks in rural North Carolina and Kansas and Iowa,” he added. “This matters to the global economy.”

Additionally, there are more than 15,000 people who work directly for the port, and thousands of others whose livelihoods depend on it, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The Small Business Administration announced Saturday that it would make low-interest, long-term loans of up to $2 million available to local small businesses in the Mid-Atlantic region affected by the bridge collapse.

The U.S. government awarded Maryland an initial $60 million in funding to clear the wreckage. The federal government will cover 90% of the costs to rebuild the bridge, said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD. He plans to introduce legislation along with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, to cover the remaining 10%, Van Hollen said.

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he intends for the federal government to pay for the entire cost of rebuilding the bridge, and expects Congress to support that effort.

Some lawmakers have balked at the idea, though. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-PA, called Biden’s notion of using federal funds to cover the full cost “kind of outrageous.”

While the current Congress is divided, Secretary Buttigieg expressed confidence that lawmakers would approve bridge funding on a bipartisan basis.

“If we can see Republicans and Democrats cooperate to get President Biden’s infrastructure package through, surely they can cooperate to help America and Baltimore deal with this tragedy,” he said Sunday on MSNBC.

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