Tragic Bridge Collapse Will Affect International Auto Shipments

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.

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.

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.

According to NPR, as the Port of Baltimore normally takes in more cars and light trucks than any other U.S. port, this makes a huge impact on the auto industry. Especially because it could be months before the debris is clear.

Automakers are all working to find other delivery methods. GM says they are already rerouting, while others like Stellantis and Mazda say they’re still figuring it out.

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.

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