April 2, 2024

Key Bridge Collapse

A cargo ship lost power and rammed into a major bridge in Baltimore [last] Tuesday, destroying the span in a matter of seconds and plunging it into the river in a terrifying collapse that could disrupt a vital shipping port for months.” AP News

“The U.S. Coast Guard has opened a temporary, alternate channel for vessels involved in clearing debris from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge… Authorities believe six workers plunged to their deaths in the collapse, including two whose bodies were recovered last week. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said at a Monday afternoon news conference that his top priority is recovering the four remaining bodies, followed by reopening shipping channels to the port.” AP News

Both sides commend the swift emergency response and urge that the bridge be rebuilt expeditiously:

“The MV Dali lost power soon after it departed the Baltimore port. Trained for such a scenario, the ship’s crew immediately sent a mayday distress call. Maryland officials scrambled, blocking traffic flow and closing down the bridge. They even rushed to remove the construction workers. Unfortunately, they were too late…

“The ship’s crew and state officials did everything they could to limit the disaster… The crash is nothing to sniff at, but it’s also important to recognize that all the response systems put in place for precisely this type of incident kicked in and did so in a way that saved several lives. Though doomsayers point to the collision as evidence of a deep rot within the country, don’t forget the mitigation and rescue efforts, both of which have been impressive.”

Becket Adams, Washington Examiner

“The senior pilot on this vessel sounded the mayday and was able to contact not just ships in the area but also his dispatch, who in turn was able within four minutes to get word to the Department of Transportation crew up on the bridge and alert them…

“It’s a remarkable performance. It really is. The fact that only six people lost their lives—if this had been rush hour, it would have been dozens, if not hundreds, lost. The pilots reacted very quickly. Which is a big difference from what we saw two years ago in Baltimore, when Ever Forward’s pilot was distracted by his computer and missed the turn and grounded the vessel. That was very different and really shows the professionalism of the Chesapeake Bay pilots here.”

Salvatore Mercogliano, Slate

“To save beleaguered Baltimore, we must rebuild the Key Bridge—fast. The waterway that the bridge spanned is vital to traffic from the Port of Baltimore—the third-largest port on the U.S. eastern seaboard. At least 15,000 jobs depend directly on the port’s commerce, with hundreds of thousands more possibly hanging in the balance. The 1.6-mile, four-lane bridge of Interstate 695 that spanned that vital logistical artery carried more than 11 million vehicles per year…

“The similar destruction of an I-95 overpass in Philadelphia was repaired in just 12 days, after onerous rules were streamlined. Multiple hurricane-ravaged bridges in Florida have been re-opened in record speed, owing to government bureaucracies creating a glidepath instead of an obstacle to finishing the job. President Biden, Congress, and state leaders must decide how badly they want to keep Maryland moving—and how soon.”

Sean Kennedy, City Journal

“One of the great fallacies of infrastructure planning in contemporary America is the idea that more time and more input will generate consensus. We live in a world that inevitably requires tradeoffs. The contribution that only a politician can deliver to the planning process is to insist that it be done quickly. That’s what [Transportation Secretary Pete] Buttigieg should demand from the relevant decision-makers from the city, the state, the port and the companies that store and ship their cargo in the harbor…

“A good way to start laying the groundwork would be to insist that a years-long planning process is not acceptable… Neither Biden nor Buttigieg can let the rebuilding of the bridge itself be business as usual. And if they succeed in building back faster, maybe it can be a template — not just for how to respond to a transportation crisis, but for how to execute on public projects and help restore public confidence in government.”

Matthew Yglesias, Bloomberg

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“[The company that chartered the cargo ship] was recently sanctioned by regulators for blocking its employees from directly reporting safety concerns to the US Coast Guard… The [Labor] department found that Maersk had ‘a policy that requires employees to first report their concerns to [Maersk]… prior to reporting it to the [Coast Guard] or other authorities.’…

“[Federal regulators] called the policy ‘repugnant’ and a ‘reprehensible and an egregious violation of the rights of employees,’ which ‘chills them from contacting the [Coast Guard] or other authorities without contacting the company first.’”

David Sirota et al, Jacobin Magazine

“We still don’t know exactly what mechanical defects caused the Dali to lose power and slam into the Francis Scott Key Bridge. We do know that the ship had prior mishaps… A ship like the Dali is only as good as the inspection regime of the nation where it is registered, which is to say not very good. That is the whole appeal of flags of convenience—to operate ships on the cheap. If the U.S. chose, we could require all such ships that enter American waters to be certified as meeting safety standards.”

Robert Kuttner, American Prospect

From the Right

“President Biden may indeed waive some environmental-impact rules in order to speed up the construction of the new Baltimore bridge. But the real question is: Why isn’t this done more often with ordinary projects, which now drag on forever?…

“The Empire State Building took just one year and 45 days from cornerstone to opening in May 1931. Other countries still build things fast. New subway lines have been built in Paris and other European cities in recent years for about $400 million a mile. By contrast, the Second Avenue Subway extension in New York cost over $2 billion a mile — or five times as much…

“Last month, the final environmental-impact statement for the rebuilding of Union Station in Washington, D.C., was released after nine years of work. And this is the prestige station that many lawmakers and bureaucrats frequently use…

“What happens now? A three-year design phase followed by 13 years of construction. The estimated completion — by 2040 and at a cost of $9 billion — will mean that the Union Station project will have only taken a full quarter century to build from the time its blueprints were prepared.”

John Fund, National Review

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