Tragic Bridge Collapse Will Affect, but Not Cripple Travel for Baltimore Dealers

March 28th, 2024 by Drew Vass, Executive Editor

After a cargo ship collided with a pillar, collapsing Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge Tuesday, an active search and rescue mission shifted to a salvage operation. The bodies of two construction workers have been recovered. Still, efforts were called off as conditions made it impossible for divers to navigate the wreckage safely, The Washington Post reported. Sonar indicates there are more vehicles. At least six members of a construction crew that was performing repairs on the bridge are presumed dead.

Baltimore, Maryland USA – June 11 2022: Francis Scott Key Bridge
Editorial credit: StockPerfect / Shutterstock.com

As the city pauses to mourn the loss of life and to navigate the long-term impacts of trade and transportation, the disaster feels like a near miss for anyone traveling the bridge regularly.

“I just did a roof on the other side of that bridge last week,” said Jeff Miguelino, owner of Monumental Exteriors in Parkville, Maryland. “We traveled over it two or three times. It’s very tragic.”

It’s an odd feeling, Miguelino said.

“We literally just finished a roof over there … I was on that bridge last week.”

In addition to the loss of lives, the collapse also cut off access to much of the city’s ports for shipping, disrupting trade. According to Maryland Governor Wes Moore, the Helen Delich Bentley Port handled 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo in 2023, worth $80 billion.

“The Port of Baltimore is the best port in the nation and one of the largest economic generators in Maryland,” Gov. Moore said.

As the state works to reestablish its port, among the key industries expected to be affected are farm and construction machinery, cars and light trucks, sugar and gypsum.

“The Port of Baltimore is a key component in Maryland’s transportation network,” said Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld.

Among the door and window companies [DWM] consulted, none said they expected to experience any product delays or difficulties with shipments. But they could experience impacts when it comes to traffic and access to local projects.

In the absence of an I-695 bridge, alternate routes for harbor crossings include I-95 or I-895 tunnels, where delays are expected.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge opened in March 1977, as the final portion of Baltimore’s I-695 beltway. The 1.6-mile crossing is the outermost of three toll crossings over the city’s harbor. For those relying on the bridge for daily transportation, the loss is a trip back to the early 1960s, when, according to Maryland Transportation Authority, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel (Interstate 895) reached its traffic capacity, leaving motorists to encounter heavy congestion and delays amid rush hours.

“It’s definitely something that’s directly impacting our commute to the office, as well as jobs around the area, along with customers coming from various parts of the city—having to take different routes to pick up inventory,” said Andrew Ortiz, co-owner and CEO of Diligent Exterior Remodeling, in Mt Airy, Maryland. “Around 31,000 vehicles daily are now traveling other routes, causing major delays.”
The bridge was basically a cut-through, Ortiz said, adding, “So now it’s a matter of going a long route around.”

Miguelino said the delays aren’t expected to impact Monumental Exteriors. But the closure has caused major traffic backups at times because the bridge falls along a route used to transport hazardous materials, he said, adding, “They’re all going to the whole opposite side of the beltway.”

Alternate routes will require a little extra time to follow, but shouldn’t impact day-to-day operations, he said.

“I’m really not sure,” Ortiz said about his company’s long term effects. “It’s hard to tell what the impacts will be. For some people it was a quick drive to come get windows we have in stock. They may look for alternative places that are closer or easier to get too. Time will tell, I suppose.”

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