House Panel to Probe Federal Response to DeadlyKey BridgeCollapse

The US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is holding a hearing to examine the federal response to the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore. The committee will discuss cleanup efforts, investigations, and funding for the bridge's reconstruction, estimated to cost up to $1.9 billion.

Nitish Verma
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House Panel to Probe Federal Response to DeadlyKey BridgeCollapse

House Panel to Probe Federal Response to DeadlyKey BridgeCollapse

The US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is set to hold a hearing on Wednesday to examine the federal response to the catastrophic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26, which claimed the lives of six construction workers. The hearing will focus on the cleanup efforts in the Patapsco River and the ongoing investigations into the cause of the incident, in which the container ship Dali struck the bridge.

Why this matters: The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge has significant implications for the Port of Baltimore and the regional economy, with potential ripple effects on global trade and commerce. As the investigation and rebuilding process unfold, thefederal response will set a precedent for addressing infrastructure failures and ensuring public safety.

The committee will hear testimony from Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Gautier, deputy commandant for operations; United States Army Corps of Engineers Maj. Gen. William (Butch) H. Graham, deputy commanding general of Civil and Emergency Operations; Federal Highway Administration Administrator Shailen Bhatt; and National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy.

The hearing comes as Maryland leaders push for the federal government to cover all future expenses related to the bridge reconstruction, which is estimated to cost up to $1.9 billion. Democratic President Joe Biden has expressed support for the project, but fully funding it will require an act of Congress.

Maryland's congressional delegation has introduced a bill to ensure that taxpayers in the state are not responsible for 10% of the construction costs. While the bill has not yet moved forward, the delegation has continued to lobby for its passage. On Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen spoke on the Senate floor to promote the bill, and on Friday, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris appeared on Fox News alongside Democratic Gov. Wes Moore.

Harris stated, "We're going to work out the details, but hopefully we're going to work it out in a bipartisan basis. Not everybody's going to get everything they want, but that's the way it's going to be if we're going to have to move forward and, again, have the federal government be a partner with Maryland in this rebuilding effort."

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, which opened in 1977, was a steel arch-shaped continuous truss bridge measuring 1.6 miles long. It carried Interstate 695, a beltway around Baltimore, with four lanes used by approximately 34,000 vehicles daily, including 3,000 trucks. The Port of Baltimore, one of the busiest shipping routes in the United States, handled over 444,000 passengers and 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo valued at $80 billion in 2023.

The Neopanamax vessel Dali, registered in Singapore, was operated by Synergy Marine Group and owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. The ship, completed in 2015, measured 980 feet long, with a 157-foot beam and a 40-foot draft. An anonymous source reported that an alarm on the ship's refrigerated containers went off while docked, likely due to an inconsistent power supply.

After recovering the sixth and final body, crews are now preparing to remove the massive debris using small explosives to break apart a chunk of the bridge that has been sitting on top of the cargo ship for six weeks. The removal process, scheduled for Saturday, will involve precision cuts made with small charges to break the span into smaller pieces, allowing the vessel to be refloated and removed from the federal channel. The ship could be refloated and returned to the Port of Baltimore as early as next week.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse has had a profound impact on the Port of Baltimore and the surrounding region. Maryland Governor Wes Moore described the incident as a "global crisis that had affected more than 8,000 jobs." As investigations continue and the rebuilding process begins, the House Committee hearing aims to shed light on the federal response and the path forward for this critical infrastructure project.