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Officials: Baltimore bridge price tag could be at least $2 billion

Buttigieg says some emergency funds available, but Congress will also have to act

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks about Tuesday’s collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore during a White House press briefing Wednesday. Vice Admiral Peter W. Gautier, Coast Guard deputy commandant for operations, is standing behind him.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks about Tuesday’s collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore during a White House press briefing Wednesday. Vice Admiral Peter W. Gautier, Coast Guard deputy commandant for operations, is standing behind him. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Federal officials told Maryland lawmakers Tuesday that it could cost at least $2 billion to rebuild Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed after being struck by a malfunctioning freighter, a source familiar with discussions said.

Although a very early estimate, it sets a steep price tag for President Joe Biden’s promise Tuesday to cover the total cost of reconstruction — especially as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a news conference Wednesday that the federal government has about $950 million in an emergency fund that could be used.

Other projects are also vying for that money, however, and further action from Congress will be needed, Buttigieg said. Any effort to hold the ship’s owners accountable would happen separately, he told reporters at the White House.

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. Six people, workers who were repairing the roadway, were missing and believed dead.

Members of the Maryland delegation were mulling legislation to provide extra emergency funds even before Biden said in a news conference Tuesday that he would “move heaven and earth” to reopen the port, according to sources.

Maryland Democratic Rep. David Trone said in a statement Wednesday that the state’s delegation was also working with Buttigieg to specifically use “quick release” emergency relief funds from the Federal Highway Administration for initial response.

The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of the container ship Dali in Baltimore after the ship struck the bridge and caused it to collapse on Tuesday. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Buttigieg said at the White House that Maryland officials have sent in an emergency relief funding request, which the Transportation Department is processing.

“I am absolutely committed to delivering much-needed federal funding to reopen the Port of Baltimore and rebuild the Key Bridge,” Trone added. “This will be a team effort through and through. We have a long road ahead of us, but we will come back stronger — together.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, another Maryland Democrat, said in a statement that lawmakers were working with Maryland officials to determine what kind of funding they will need from the federal government. In the meantime, the Army Corps of Engineers is engaged in clearing the channel and has ample funding to do that, Van Hollen said.

“Once those determinations are made, I’ll be laser-focused on providing any federal resources necessary as quickly as possible,” Van Hollen said.

A source familiar with the funding discussions added that lawmakers are expecting the emergency funding legislation to be bipartisan, although they are keeping in mind they will need to find offsets for the costs.

Buttigieg stressed Wednesday that rebuilding the bridge will not be “quick, easy or cheap.”

“When we helped Pennsylvania and California swiftly reopen I-95 and I-10 respectively, there was terrific work … but that was addressing comparatively short spans of bridges over land, relative to this span over water,” Buttigieg said. Interstate 95 in Philadelphia reopened just two weeks after a truck accident led to the collapse of an elevated section of the road in June, and California rebuilt a damaged section of Interstate 10 near Los Angeles within a handful of weeks in November.

“And of course, in the Baltimore case, we still don’t fully know the condition of the portions of the bridge that are still standing or have infrastructure that is below the surface of the water,” he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation into the incident, which involved a Singapore-registered container ship, dubbed Dali, that sent out a mayday distress call before the collision. Buttigieg said DOT is already taking steps to rebuild the bridge and reopen the port, which is the nation’s largest port for handling vehicle shipments.

“We are concerned about the local economic impact, with some 8,000 jobs directly associated with port activities,” Buttigieg said. “And we’re concerned about implications that will ripple out beyond the immediate region because of … the port’s role in our supply chains.”

Buttigieg added that the DOT is poised to address any issues the NTSB finds relating to the regulation, inspection, design or funding of bridges in the future.

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