Key Bridge Forum Prompts Reconstruction Plans

FRIDAY, MAY 10, 2024

Earlier this week, consultants, contractors and subcontractors met with Maryland Transportation Authority officials in an online forum to discuss construction plans for the new Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

According to reports from the two-hour meeting, it may be more than four years before the replacement bridge for the original structure that collapsed in March is completely built, connecting Interstate 695 over the Baltimore harbor.

Collapse Background, Investigation

The bridge collapse occurred around 1 a.m. on March 26 after a container ship ran into one of the bridge's supports. Video and images showed the collapse, with part of the bridge landing on top of the shipping vessel. 

Maryland Governor Wes Moore confirmed at a press conference that day that the cargo ship Dali had reported losing power just before it crashed. Moore said that an emergency call from the ship allowed officials to limit traffic on the bridge before the crash, as the structure typically sees thousands of vehicles per day.

Moore also reportedly declared a state of emergency after the incident and said that he was working to get federal resources deployed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was on the scene and have since confirmed that there was “no indication of terrorism as a motivating factor.”

Maryland State Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said that eight construction workers were on the bridge at the time of its collapse. Following the accident, two were rescued from the water, with one sent to the hospital and the other described as “okay.” The bodies of all six victims have been recovered from the site as of May 8.

The container ship was reportedly chartered by shipping company Maersk and was carrying customer cargo when the incident occurred. However, no Maersk crew or personnel were on board the vessel at the time of the crash.

The Dali was reportedly not being piloted by its own crew, but by local pilots who are used specifically to avoid accidents like the one that occurred. The pilots typically get on board just outside of local channels and take the ships into ports.

The National Transportation Safety Board was on the scene to lead the investigation into the collapse. At a press conference that day, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said they believe that voyager data will play a critical role in the investigation.

A team of 24 experts planned to dig into nautical operations, vessel operations, safety history records, owners, operators, company policy and any sort of safety management systems or programs.

Following the collapse, engineers reportedly began working to remove the first pieces of the bridge as an investigation continued into what factors caused the fatal incident.

Homendy reported that the vessel had 56 containers on board of corrosive flammable material and batteries, adding that some of the containers were breached. One of the materials was sheen, which is used in paint, and that has leaked into the Patapsco River.

NTSB officials had also boarded the vessel to obtain its black box, which provided an initial timeline of events through voyage data recorder information. “Numerous aural alarms were recorded on the ships’ bridge audio,” the NTSB found.

Later, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said that a 1,000-ton capacity lift crane was on site and a 600-ton crane is on its way to help remove dismantled pieces of the bridge.

Removing the thousands of tons of steel and concrete resting atop the vessel’s bow was expected to be one of the most intricate parts of the dismantling operation, officials added. The wreckage was to be lifted one piece at a time.

After each lift, responders were to scan and survey the area and divers to go in the water, explained U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander and District Engineer Estee Pinchasin. The work allowed for the opening of a temporary restricted channel for vessels to move into the area and assist with recovery, Moore said.

Officials did not have a timeline for reopening the channel or rebuilding the bridge at the time of the report. The work was funded through $60 million in emergency relief funds through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

At the beginning month, officials from the MDTA announced plans to host the Virtual Industry Forum on May 7 to discuss the rebuilding of the collapsed bridge. The MDTA explained that the meeting would focus on the anticipated Progressive Design-Build (PDB) Process, outlining a pending Request for Proposals with potential consultants, contractors and subcontractors.

Forum Details

Reports from the meeting state that the new structure is expected to cost between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion and be completed by the fall of 2028.

According to The Baltimore Sun, when asked if state leaders would host site tours or one-on-one meetings with interested companies, transportation authority officials said those are “not anticipated” due to the need for a quick timeline.  

It’s an “aggressive rebuild schedule,” said Brian Wolfe, the authority’s Director of Project Development.

Additionally, an RFP is expected to be released later this month, and transportation officials added that four to six weeks later, an entity or entities will be selected to build the new bridge.

James Harkness, the MDTA’s Chief Engineer, stated that no private financing would be used to fund the bridge construction. “All the funding for this project will be federal dollars or toll revenue,” he said.

“We are seeking a team that manages costs effectively, provides transparency in financial dealings and stays within negotiated budgets,” Harkness added. “Additionally, the bridge’s design should minimize environmental impacts to the Patapsco River and enhance the visual landscape, serving as a welcoming gateway to the city and Port of Baltimore.”

At the same time, companies are being given an opportunity to submit proposals to design and build a replacement bridge. However, some details for the new span have already been determined, such as the bridge’s location being in roughly the same spot as the old one.

“A new structure will be built along the existing centerline of the original bridge. That’s to minimize impacts to the surrounding environment,” Wolfe said.

How tall the bridge will be is still yet to be decided. The old bridge’s vertical clearance was 185 feet, however, as container ships get larger and larger—a potential factor in the recent disaster—some bridges are raising their heights.

“We are working with the U.S. Coast Guard right now to determine the appropriate minimal air draft height for the new bridge, and that will meet current and future needs of the port,” Wolfe said.

The Key Bridge RFP reportedly will not require that the replacement be cable-stayed. “Other bridge types will be considered,” Wolfe said. However, the new bridge is expected to be better fortified due to the new bridge-building codes becoming stricter in recent decades.

When asked about the bridge having manmade protective islands called “dolphins” put in place, Wolfe said they were "obviously an important aspect of any project. The pier protection systems will be part of the progressive design-build process, so we’ll be collaborating with the design-build team to address that issue.”

According to a report from WBAL, state officials outlined initiatives that are already underway, as the WeBuild Group, an Italian company, has sent a proposal to be considered for the job. Previously, the group had reportedly helped rebuild a bridge that collapsed in Genoa, Italy, in 2018. The company stated that its proposal would produce a safer bridge by widening the shipping channel.

WeBuild reportedly pitched a concept for a cable-stayed bridge, adding that it would have 213 feet of vertical clearance. It also planned increase the span, “with the main pylons positioned in much shallower water and away from the navigation channel,” the company said.

On top of official discussions for the new bridge, other Maryland residents have also reportedly weighed in on what should come next.

"It should be upgraded from what we have been seeing around the world. I've seen some fantastic bridges, designs and so forth. It's time for us to do our homework so this won't happen again," Will Shird told WBAL.

"I would look into engineering classes at colleges because I see that the colleges are doing more modern ways of building, something that is more modern and more sustainable that can take an impact," said Ilya Brown.

On top of the reconstruction efforts, cleanup crews are reportedly planning to use explosives to remove a large section of the bridge from the Dali's bow in the next week, as the ship is still stuck in the riverbed. 

According to WBAL, Key Bridge Response Unified Command crews are also working to remove the Dali from the wreckage site, using explosives to dismantle the parts of the steel bridge that are weighing the ship down.

All this is reportedly set to take place while the crew onboard the ship takes shelter on board. Once the wreckage is lifted from the Dali, Unified Command can reportedly begin the process of refloating the ship to remove it.

As construction and cleanup efforts continue, the MDTA has set up a website to view information about the Key Bridge project.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Bridges; Certifications and standards; Conferences; Construction; Department of Transportation (DOT); Environmental Control; Environmental Protection; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Meetings; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Roads/Highways; Safety; Transportation; Upcoming projects

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.