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Industry & Trends

Baltimore Harbor’s Shipping Channel Has Reopened: Now What?

With the ongoing clearing of the remains of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the port is back in business…but far from back in business as usual.

Baltimore harbor, a key piece of the global supply chain especially for some building materials, is now open with clearance completed on the main shipping channel. According to a CNBC report, “The restoration follows a cleanup process that started on March 30 and removed about 50,000 tons of bridge wreckage from the Patapsco River, allowing for the gradual reopening of the channel in the weeks since.”

While the clean-up continues, CNBC reported the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that the Fort McHenry Federal Channel was reinstated to its original operational dimensions of 700 feet wide and 50 feet deep for commercial transit through the Port of Baltimore. “We’ve cleared the Fort McHenry Federal Channel for safe transit,” according to a statement from Baltimore District commander Col. Este Pinchasin.

In the early morning hours of March 26 the container ship Dali struck the bridge causing a large section of it to collapse, effectively blocking any traffic in and out of the harbor.

As reported earlier by IWF Network News, the port of Baltimore ranks 17th in overall volume in the country but according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics materials associated with the building and furniture manufacturing sectors that move through the port in significant numbers include plywood, veneer and particleboard as well as paper/paperboard and gypsum.

In January of this year, government statistics showed the port moved more than 62,000 container tons of forest products, the largest amount moved since August 2023.

Future plans for replacing the bridge are still being discussed but estimates are that the cost could be well over the original $316 million it took to build it by the time it opened in 1977, ranging from $400 million all the way to $2 billion. It will also be some time before any new bridge is completed: the original took five years to build: according to the Bipartisan Policy Center “some experts expect that the Key Bridge will most likely take at least a few years to rebuild due to the project’s scale and complexity. The timeline will depend significantly on how efficiently the site can be cleared, how quickly funding is lined up, and whether any permitting and environmental review procedures delay its reconstruction.”

However the organization does say, “others have argued it could be completed within a year if prioritized and expedited.”

In the meantime, while motorists are likely to have to wait years to get across Baltimore Harbor via any new bridge, cargo ships can now go through it as quickly as they once did before March 26.

Image: Key Bridge Response 2024

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