Fallen bridge disrupts key port

2024-03-27 Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Some 95,000 tons of a modern cargo ship collided with part of America's aging infrastructure early Tuesday, and the Baltimore bridge it rammed into collapsed, disrupting one of America's busiest ports.

It is unclear whether the collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge into the Patapsco River was due to any fault in the structure itself. Officials have said the crew of the 9-year-old Dali ship warned Maryland officials of a possible collision because they had lost control as it went off course and seemed to lose power.

The Dali is a 984-foot-long container vessel built in 2015 by Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea.

To some bridge experts, the collapse of the bridge after it was hit by the cargo ship was inevitable because the span was never built with modern container ships in mind.

"When a vessel as heavy as the Singapore-flagged Dali collides with such force against one of the span's super columns, or piers, the result is what took place early Tuesday," said Dan Frangopol, a bridge engineering and risk professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, who is president of the International Association for Bridge Maintenance and Safety.

"If the column is destroyed, basically the structure will fall down," he told The Washington Post. "It's not possible to redistribute the loads. It was not designed for these things."

The collapse of the bridge that opened in 1977 has left six construction workers who were repairing potholes on the bridge still unaccounted for and has revived scrutiny of the overall health of the 300,000 bridges across the United Sates.

President Joe Biden said during a news conference Tuesday at the White House that the federal government would "pay the entire cost of reconstructing" the bridge "and I expect the Congress to support my effort".

In 2021, he pushed through Congress the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to renovate and rebuild aging infrastructure such as ports, roads and bridges. It includes $110 billion to upgrade roads and bridges.

U.S. Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina told Newsmax that Congress has to "be smarter" about how it spends money.

"Why — after all these bills, after the money — do we still have really old bridges and really old roads?" asked Mace, who voted against the infrastructure act. "Because we're not spending it on roads and bridges," she said, noting that only $110 billion from the act went toward that purpose.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore has said the bridge was "fully up to code".

The bridge is listed in "fair" condition in the Transportation Department's National Bridge Inventory.

No bridge pier could withstand being hit by a ship the size of the Dali, Benjamin Schafer, a professor of civil and systems engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told the Post.

The Federal Highway Administration has said that the condition of U.S. bridges has slowly improved in recent years, the association said, but more than 43,000 are still considered to be in poor condition and classed as "structurally deficient", risking potential collapse in the future.

Ship traffic in the Port of Baltimore has been suspended until further notice. The Army Corps of Engineers will help lead the effort to clear the channel.

The Port of Baltimore is one of the nation's largest shipping hubs, Biden said, and it is "the top port in America for both imports and exports of automobiles and light trucks. Around 850,000 vehicles go through that port every single year. More than 30,000 vehicles cross the bridge on a daily basis," he said. "It's one of the most important elements for the economy in the Northeast."

The port provided more than 15,000 direct jobs in 2018, according to the Maryland Transportation Department.

The Dali arrived in Baltimore on Sunday from the Port of Norfolk in Virginia. Before that, it had been in New York and had gone through the Panama Canal.

The ship was involved in at least one prior accident, when it collided with a shipping pier in Belgium.

That 2016 incident occurred as the Dali was leaving port in Antwerp and struck a loading pier made of stone, causing damage to the ship's stern, according to, a site that tracks ships across the world. An investigation determined a mistake made by the ship's master and pilot was to blame.

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