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Key Bridge debris finally cleared, shipping channel into Baltimore fully reopened

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Key Bridge debris finally cleared, shipping channel into Baltimore fully reopened

Jun 11, 2024 | 8:45 am ET
By Maryland Matters Staff
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Key Bridge debris finally cleared, shipping channel into Baltimore fully reopened
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Salvage crews last week removed the last large steel truss of the Francis Scott Key Bridge from the shipping channel in the Patapsco River, which was closed March 26 when a container ship struck the bridge, destroying the center span and killing six workers. Photo by Bobby Petty/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The full 700-foot-wide, 50-foot-deep Fort McHenry shipping channel into the Port of Baltimore is finally reopened to ship traffic, more than two months after the crash that destroyed the Francis Scott Key Bridge and closed the Patapsco River channel.

The announcement Monday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers comes less than three weeks after crews had opened a 400-foot-wide channel after removing the container ship Dali, which had been pinned under wreckage in the channel since its March 26 collision with the bridge. That allowed deep-draft ships to reach the port, but reopening of the full channel will allow two-way traffic and let officials lift safety restrictions that had been in place for operation of the narrower channel.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) praised the reopening, what he called the result of “a remarkably complex operation, spanning thousands of people, hundreds of assets, and multiple objectives.”

“With the channel now fully open, we can get more Marylanders back to work at the Port of Baltimore, increase the flow of commerce through the city, and accelerate our economic recovery,” Moore said in a statement released by his office. “But our work is not over until we rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge.”

Unlike the reopening of the channel, replacing the bridge is expected to take years and could cost billions of dollars. Before it collapsed in the Dali crash, the bridge carried more than 30,000 vehicles a day and provided a critical way for trucks to get around the Harbor and Fort McHenry tunnels, which prohibit hazardous materials.

Maryland officials are moving ahead with an aggressive effort to replace the bridge, even as questions remain about costs and who will pay. The state issued a request in late May for proposals to build a bridge that exceeds the 75-year initial life expectancy and has the fewest supports possible in the Patapsco, to reduce the potential of future ship collisions. Those bids are due by the end of this month.

Crews had to remove about 50,000 tons of debris from the Patapsco River to reopen the channel this week. The Unified Command, the six-agency organization that led the clean-up, said it coordinated efforts of as many as 56 federal, state, and local agencies, represented by 1,587 individual responders. It said another 500 specialists were involved along with a fleet of 18 barges, 22 tugboats, 13 floating cranes, 10 excavators, and four survey boats.

The channel was surveyed Monday after wreckage had been removed to the 50-foot “mud-line” at the bottom of the channel, and it was reopened after the survey determined the riverbed safe for transit. Officials said surveying and removal of steel at and below the 50-foot mud-line will continue to ensure future dredging operations are not impacted. Wreckage will continue to be taken to Sparrows Point for processing, but work in the channel from this point on is part of routine maintenance, ensuring future dredging operations will not be impacted.

The Army Corps of Engineers “will maintain this critical waterway as we have for the last 107 years,” said Col. Estee Pinchasin, Baltimore District commander for the Corps.