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News / Nation & World

Third channel to open at Baltimore port as recovery from bridge collapse continues

By Associated Press
Published: April 9, 2024, 3:51pm

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A third channel will open this month at Baltimore’s port after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse two weeks ago, and Maryland’s congressional delegation will sponsor legislation seeking federal aid to pay 100% of the cost of a new bridge, Sen. Ben Cardin said Tuesday.

Cardin gave the update after meeting with the state congressional delegation and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Capitol Hill in Washington.

“We now have two alternative channels that are open. We have a third channel that’ll be open this month that will deal with the majority of traffic into the port of Baltimore. And by the end of May we hope to have the entire channel reopened,” Cardin said.

The bridge collapsed March 26 after being struck by the cargo ship Dali, which lost power shortly after setting sail, and the wreckage has blocked the port’s main shipping channel.

Cardin also said he will lead an effort to introduce legislation clarifying that federal funds will be used to pay the full cost of replacing the bridge. He noted that the federal government covered 100% of rebuilding the Interstate 35W bridge in Minnesota after it collapsed into the Mississippi River in 2007.

“The legislation that we’re going to be offering will be to do what has done in previous disasters to make it clear that it’s 100% federal cost in regards to the monies that have already been allocated,” Cardin.

The Democrat added that he has been encouraged by conversations he’s had with Republicans: “They have been very open to this legislation.”

Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s lone Republican member of Congress, appeared with the other lawmakers to join them in expressing support, saying that “tragedy knows no partisanship.”

“This wasn’t a Republican tragedy. It wasn’t a Democrat tragedy. And the solution won’t be a partisan solution,” Harris said. “It’ll be a bipartisan solution.”

Cardin said any funds recovered from liable third parties or their insurance “will go to relieve the federal taxpayers,” but that won’t hold up work to replace the bridge.

“We will not delay until liability is established, but once liability is established and funds are received, it will go towards the taxpayers,” Cardin said.

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

“It is our expectation that the federal taxpayer will be made whole, but we do not want that to get in the way. That is why whatever insurance litigation and other related processes play out, we are not going to wait for them to play out to make sure these dollars are getting to where they need to be,” Buttigieg said.

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He also reiterated President Joe Biden’s pledge to ensure the federal government pays for the new bridge.

It remains unclear how much that cost will be, and it will depend in large part on the design, Cardin said.

“There’s been a 3,000% percent increase since 1975, when this bridge was constructed, in regards to the amount of traffic cargo that goes through the channel itself, so it needs to meet the current needs in regards to structure, height, etc., and that’s being evaluated as we speak,” Cardin said.

Authorities believe six workers — immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — plunged to their deaths in the Patapsco River when the bridge collapsed. Two others survived. Three bodies have been recovered, but the search for the others continues.

Moore said the state remains focused on supporting the families of the six workers and bringing them closure. After the meeting in Washington, he returned to the state capital to sign legislation helping port employees affected by the bridge collapse.

The legislation, which takes immediate effect with his signature, authorizes use of the state’s rainy day fund and lets the governor use state reserves to help some small businesses avoid laying people off and to encourage companies that relocate to other ports to return to Baltimore when it reopens. It also creates a scholarship program for the children of transportation workers who have died on the job since 2022.

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