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Port Blocked by Baltimore Bridge Collapse is Key Hub for US Shipping

March 26, 2024
The Port of Baltimore's vehicles terminals moved over 750,000 vehicles in 2022, Automotive Logistics reports.

Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge, named after the poet who penned the lyrics to the U.S. national anthem, used to carry an average of around 31,000 vehicles a day across one of the busiest harbors in the United States.

Its nighttime collapse, within seconds of being struck by a container ship, is likely to cause substantial economic damage for as long as it continues to block shipping in the Port of Baltimore.

The bridge's dramatic destruction shut the port for all maritime traffic, which last year accounted for more than 52 million tons of foreign cargo, worth some $80 billion, according to a recent statement from Maryland Governor Wes Moore's office.

In 1963, Baltimore was the port of entry for the first Volkswagen Beetle, according to Baltimore is the deepest harbor in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay and handles the highest volume of autos and light trucks in the United States, as well as the largest quantities of imported sugar and gypsum.

The Port of Baltimore is the ninth-busiest major U.S. port in terms of both foreign cargo handled and foreign cargo value and is directly responsible for more than 15,000 jobs, supporting almost 140,000 more.

It generates around $3.3 billion in total personal income each year, according to the Maryland State Archives, and brings in almost $400 million in annual tax revenues.

More than 50 ocean carriers use the port every year, making a total of almost 1,800 trips annually.

About 300 acres of space are designated for so-called roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo and automobiles, according to

The Port of Baltimore also serves as a cruise terminal.

Last year, more than 440,000 individuals cruised out of the port --  the most since 2012, according to the Governor's office.

"Bridge collapses of this level are rare, especially with a major bridge like the Francis Scott Key Bridge that services one of the largest ports in the country," says Erin Bell, chair and professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of New Hampshire.

The extended closure of the bridge "will inevitably disrupt commercial activities and supply chains," the Maryland Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.

"Understanding the monumental task ahead to recover from this tragedy and restore this vital transportation link, we urge all residents and businesses to exercise patience and make the necessary long-term adjustments to their daily routines, travel and operations," they added.

The collapse will "disrupt vessel schedules and strain labor and handling capacities at other ports such as Philadelphia and Norfolk, leading to spill-over congestion and delays that could last months," according to Mirko Woitzik, global director of intelligence for Everstream Analytics.

"On the other side of the bridge are ships that cannot move out or containers that can’t be discharged," says Pawan Joshi, EVP of products and strategy at supply chain platform e2open

"The net impact is we are stuck for some time and it’s not going to go away easy. The event is a reminder of the unpredictable nature of supply chain risk and the need to plan for when things do not go to plan or are disrupted by uncontrollable factors," says Joshi.

- 'Inadequate' protection -

Major bridges over shipping lanes like this one are supposed to be designed in such a way to minimize damage in the event of a collision, according to bridge designer Robert Benaim.

"Clearly the protection of the piers in this instance was inadequate," he says.

"A pier or column of a bridge could never resist the impact of a large ship. They must be protected from collision," he added.

"It's evident that the pier couldn't withstand the impact energy, leading to its failure and subsequent collapse of the steel truss and reinforced concrete deck superstructure," says University of Warwick Structural Engineering Professor Toby Mottram.

"The extent of the damage to the bridge superstructure appears disproportionate to the cause, a matter for future investigation," he added.

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