What is the impact of the collapse of the largest automobile trading port bridge in the United States?

At 1:27 am Eastern Time on March 26, 2024, the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, was hit by a large container ship, causing half of the bridge to collapse within seconds. 20 people and more vehicles fell into the Patapsco River 56 meters below the bridge deck. The state immediately joined a state of emergency. The Federal Coast Guard estimated based on the time and temperature of the bridge collapse that six construction workers who were not rescued have died.

Synergy Marine Group, the world’s fourth largest ship management company based in Singapore, issued a statement stating that the container ship “Dali” under the company collided with the bridge, and the 22 Indian sailors and two local American pilots on board were unharmed.
Preliminary investigation and analysis revealed that the cause of the incident was due to the power outage and loss of control of the “Dali” ship, which collided with a bridge pillar. The cargo ship ran out of emergency signals before hitting the bridge. According to the vessel tracking website Vessel Finder, the destination of the Dali is Colombo Port, Sri Lanka. Its journey will bypass the Cape of Good Hope in Africa to avoid the Red Sea. In July 2016, the “Dali” collided with the North Sea container port while sailing near the port of Antwerp, Belgium, causing damage to the ship’s hold and no casualties.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States has preliminarily eliminated the possibility of terrorist attacks. Officials from the local road management bureau have stated that this bridge does not have a fatal flaw in survival. Even after 2023, the bridge remains at an “acceptable level of operation,” with its deck, upper structure, and lower structure in a “satisfactory condition.”.
Touching the economic arteries
The Francis Scott Key Bridge was completed and opened to traffic in 1977 for $60 million. Its body is a truss construction plan, with a length of approximately 2.6 kilometers, ranking third in the same category worldwide.
According to research, there were over 500 collapses of truss bridges in the United States between 1989 and 2000. In the May 2022 review, the safety evaluation score for one reinforced concrete member of the Francis Scott Key bridge increased from 77.8 to 65.9. It is currently unclear which one to maintain is the one that was hit by the giant ship this time.
Baltimore, where the incident occurred, is an important port city in the eastern United States, connecting the Great Lakes region of North America, the Central Basin, and the Atlantic Ocean. The Francis Scott Key Bridge is an important link between Interstate 695 (within Baltimore’s scale, it is the Ring Expressway), with an annual traffic volume of 11.5 million vehicles. It bears the heavy burden of the local economic artery, affecting the survival of at least 15000 people and the state’s $2.6 billion in business expenses.
Due to its proximity to the Great Lakes automobile production center, Baltimore has become the busiest automobile commercial port in the United States. According to data from the Maryland Governor’s Office, the total throughput of cars and light trucks at Baltimore Port last year was 840000. In addition, the port is also the second largest coal port in the United States (mainly for energy coal transported to India), as well as an important import of agricultural products such as coffee, sugar, and salt.
Patrick Penfield, a supply chain master at Syracuse University, predicts that the economic losses brought about by the opening of the harbor are about $9 million per day, and the full economic impact depends on the progress of the authorities in building the bridge.
Officials predict that it will take two weeks for the river to clear and open for navigation, and the construction time of the bridge will be calculated on a monthly or even annual basis. This disaster may have a several month or even longer impact on port operations and regional shipping. The automobile, coal, and timber businesses throughout the eastern part of North America are facing the danger of continuous transportation.
Due to the continuous collision of the Suez Canal and Panama Canal during navigation, the collapse of the “Francis Scott Key” bridge has raised high alert in the industry. Margie Shapiro, a local executive handling ocean freight, revealed that the department’s cargo ships will be relocated to nearby ports in Norfolk, Jersey, New York, and even Philadelphia.
The goods currently anchored at the Baltimore port will be forced to be diverted by land. Shapiro has already received inquiries from multiple customers regarding delivery time and freight charges. She advocates for the freight company to use the “force majeure” clause, but in that case, the shipper will have to pay extra costs.
Although there are other underwater tunnels in the area that can be used for daily traffic, the transportation of dangerous goods such as gasoline vehicles needs to be diverted. In addition, officials have not yet confirmed whether the boat can eliminate fuel leakage.
Charleston, another major port along the Atlantic coast in South Carolina, expressed a desire to learn from the Baltimore turmoil and to examine the safety of its own operations, French style, and state based measures.
The infrastructure is outdated and we can’t afford it now
The urgent need for investment downgrade in infrastructure, including bridges, has reignited discussions among various sectors in the United States. “In the context of the Baltimore Port Incident, the White House is even more urgently in need of swift action,” said Ben Schafer, a master of the tribulations and fundamental measures of the Bipartisan Policy Center
After the Great Depression of 1929, in order to revive the economy as soon as possible, the US authorities used a national approach to promote a wave of infrastructure anger. In addition to the Empire State Building in New York, the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, the Golden Gate Bridge in California, and the interstate road system throughout the United States, thousands of smaller bridges were completed during this era.
After the baptism of time, nearly one tenth of the nearly 620000 various types of bridges in the United States are severely damaged. Bridges like Francis Scott Key, which have a history of nearly 50 years, account for half of the existing total mass. According to industry consultant Amlan Mukherjee, who specializes in fundamental measures, “If we were to think critically from the perspective of disaster, we have now reached this stage.”
The statement from the Association of American Route and Transport Builders (ARTBA) found that there are over 220000 bridges in the world that need to be repaired, and 76000 that need to be completely rebuilt. If emergency actions are not taken, businesses, producers, and people’s lives will face significant economic losses.
In addition, the President of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Vice President of the White House’s Advisory Committee on Fundamental Measures, Maria Lehman, pointed out that the United States spends only 1.5% to 2.5% of its GDP on fundamental measures, which is even less than half of the EU’s. If the situation of long-term lack of capital continues, it will miss valuable opportunities.
As early as 2008, ASCE had anticipated that the United States would have to spend $1.6 trillion over five years to build foundational measures, from dilapidated embankments to congested routes and ports, of which only $1 trillion had lost its allocation or promise. According to the latest evaluation from the association, the gap has expanded to $2.59 trillion.
In fact, recent US authorities have pledged to implement reforms, but none have fulfilled their promises. Until early 2021, the Biden administration finally issued a massive $2 trillion investment plan for fundamental measures, including the construction of 10 of the most economically significant bridges. Biden described it as “the largest unemployed investment in the United States since World War II.”. At the end of that year, Biden pushed forward the bipartisan Fundamentals Investment and Unemployment Act, which included requesting $550 billion in new funding for projects such as bridges by 2026.
After the Baltimore incident was resolved, Biden appeared and requested that the federal authorities bear the full cost of repairing this bridge, but additional funding must be approved by Congress. According to media analysis in the United States, the capital mentioned by Biden may come from the Federal Road Service and the bipartisan Basic Measures Act. However, according to statistics from the Brookings Institution, 47% of this capital has already been allocated to states before November 2023. Given the generally advanced age of infrastructure in each state, the remaining nearly half of the capital is likely to be even more stretched.


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