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Port of Baltimore back open for business after Key Bridge collapse as officials celebrate milestone

Port of Baltimore is back open. Focus turns to Key Bridge rebuild.
Port of Baltimore is back open. Focus turns to Key Bridge rebuild. 03:39

BALTIMORE - Maryland Gov. Wes Moore joined U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other leaders Wednesday to celebrate the full reopening of the Port of Baltimore nearly three months after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Now that the main federal channel in the Patapsco River is back to its full dimensions, shipping traffic can return in full force to and from the port.

The focus now turns to rebuilding the bridge.

"The Port of Baltimore is reopened for business," Moore said.

The full-width Ft. McHenry Channel reopened on Monday at 50 feet deep and 700 feet wide, which allows a two-way passageway for all vessels to and from one of the nation's largest port facilities.

More than 50,000 tons of bridge wreckage were removed from the river and taken to Sparrows Point in the southeastern part of Baltimore County.

Salvage crews spent the final days before the federal channel reopened sweeping the wreckage site with sonar, LIDAR and magnetometer to identify and investigate any high spots to ensure no residual hazard to navigation.

"This team did the unimaginable by man, and instead of 11 months, they did it in 11 weeks," Moore said. 

Port leadership said it would take time before full shipping traffic returns, however, they noted certain types, such as roll-on/roll-off cargo, were getting back to the levels they were at before the collapse.

"This moment was earned"  

Unions representing port workers thanked the partnerships that helped keep those impacted by the port closure employed and paid.

"The governor made a commitment to me and to the men and women of the International Longshoremen Association that he was going to take care of us," Scott Cowan, president of ILA Local 333, said. "Sir, your word is good."

Moore noted partnerships were critical to getting to this point, not only to clear the Key Bridge wreckage but also to care for the families of the six construction workers killed in the bridge collapse and help thousands of port workers who could have missed out on pay.

"The Ft. McHenry Channel is fully cleared, and the Port of Baltimore is reopened for business," Moore said. "While this moment is historic, it was not given. This moment was earned and we are here this afternoon to recognize the people who brought us to this moment."

Buttigieg said the federal response was made possible "largely through the work of the White House Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, as well as the lessons we learned in recent years, especially from COVID."

"We've got to get moving"

The Maryland Transportation Administration is taking bids until June 24 to get a new Key Bridge built. 

MDOT Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said hundreds of companies across the world have shown interest in the bridge rebuild, which is expected to cost from $1.7 to $1.9 billion.

The White House has pledged to fully fund it, while the Maryland congressional delegation is working to get the Baltimore BRIDGE Relief Act, which would allow for full federal funding of the rebuild, passed, or to at least secure funding through an amendment in another bill.

"We've got to get moving," Moore said. "We know that we have to get this on time, on budget and with speed. That's the importance of getting the Baltimore BRIDGE Act passed."

Moore is also confident pending legal battles and insurance claims will help with the costs of a new bridge.

The goal is to have a new bridge built by fall 2028.

"We're going to keep working with President Biden," Moore said. "We're going to keep working with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and we are going to make that vision a reality. That is the push. That's the promise. And we don't break our promises. We're going to get it done."

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