Maryland governor urges bridge rebuild funds

April 1, 2024 4:53 pm

[Source: Reuters]

With efforts underway to clean up thousands of tons of steel debris from the collapsed bridge in Baltimore’s harbor, Maryland Governor Wes Moore on Sunday urged Republicans to work with Democrats to approve the federal funding needed for rebuilding the bridge and to get the port economy back on its feet.

Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key bridge collapsed early on Tuesday morning, killing six road workers, when a container ship nearly the size of the Eiffel Tower lost power and crashed into a support pylon. Much of the span crashed into the Patapsco River, blocking the Port of Baltimore’s shipping channel.

The Biden administration released $60 million in initial emergency aid on Thursday to assist in cleaning up the bridge debris and reopening the port, which is the largest in the U.S. for “roll-on, roll-off” vehicle imports and exports of farm and construction equipment. The port has been closed since Tuesday, leaving in limbo the jobs of some 15,000 people who rely on its daily operations.

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Federal officials have told Maryland lawmakers the final cost of rebuilding the bridge could soar to at least $2 billion, Roll Call reported, citing a source familiar with the discussions.

Democratic President Joe Biden has pledged that the federal government will cover the cost, but that will depend on passage of legislation authorizing the funds by both the Republican-led House of Representatives and Democratic-led Senate. The divided Congress has been repeatedly riven by partisan battles over funding, with hardline Republicans often at odds even with members of their own party.

Moore, a Democrat, said Republicans should be willing to approve the funding for the sake of not just the city of Baltimore, but for the national economy.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg expressed optimism on Sunday that Congress would approve the funds necessary for the cleanup and rebuild, noting that the divided legislative body had passed Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package in 2021.

Biden was expected to visit the bridge collapse site this week.

An enormous crane began cutting up portions of the collapsed bridge to prepare them for removal on Saturday, which officials said was the first step of what will be a long and complicated cleanup. A spokesperson for the governor’s office said on Sunday that a 200-ton (180-metric ton) piece of the bridge had been removed and officials were working to determine the best strategy for pulling the ship off the wreckage.

Later Sunday officials said they were preparing to establish an alternate route, opens new tab for “commercially essential vessels,” although few additional details were released and the timing of the alternate route’s opening wasn’t made clear.

In a statement, coordinator Capt. David O’Connell said that the alternate would “support the flow of marine traffic into Baltimore.” Video released by responders showed Coast Guard officials dropping buoys into the water near the site of the collision.

The wreckage and hazardous weather conditions have made it impossible for divers to continue searching for the four remaining bodies of the deceased construction workers in recent days, Moore said.

Moore and other officials have declined to give an estimated timeline for the reopening of the port and the rebuilding of the bridge.