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Lawmakers eye additional funding after Baltimore bridge collapse

Freight ship hit support column of busy I-695 bridge after issuing ‘mayday’ call

Small boats surround a cargo ship after the ship ran into and collapsed the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday morning.
Small boats surround a cargo ship after the ship ran into and collapsed the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday morning. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Maryland lawmakers in Congress were already mulling legislation Tuesday to provide emergency funds to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore ahead of President Joe Biden’s promise to cover all reconstruction costs, a source familiar with discussions said.

The bridge, which spans 1.6 miles and carries Interstate 695 over the Patapsco River and outer Baltimore Harbor, suffered a partial structural collapse after a cargo ship struck one of its support columns early Tuesday morning. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency, and state officials said in a morning press conference that they were continuing search and rescue efforts.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced it will conduct an investigation into the incident, which involved a Singapore-registered container ship, dubbed Dali, that sent out a mayday distress call before the collision.

The bridge carried an estimated 12.4 million vehicles last year, according to a Maryland Transportation Authority report. It leads to the Port of Baltimore, which is one of the busiest U.S. ports for car shipments. It also handles large volumes of farm and construction machinery, agricultural products and acts as a terminal for many cruise lines.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Tuesday morning that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was also considering providing DOT emergency funds. 

Biden said later in a press conference that he intends for the federal government to pay for the “entire cost” of reconstructing the bridge, and expects Congress to support the effort. 

“[The port] handled a record amount of cargo last year … and we’re going to get it up and running again as soon as possible,” Biden said. “I’ve directed my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible.”

Van Hollen said officials will switch to efforts to remove debris from the port to reopen the shipping route after search and rescue missions were complete. He added in a statement that he would fight for any federal funding Baltimore might need.

“While the events of today are still unfolding, we know this is a terrible tragedy for our City and our State,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “We are quickly working to address this situation, and I know, as always, Baltimore will come together, united to face this tragedy.”

It’s too early to tell what an emergency supplemental spending bill for the bridge could look like, especially as Maryland officials have yet to officially request such funds from Congress. But Congress provided $250 million in funding to rebuild the Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed across the Mississippi River in 2007, and it was repaired within a year.

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