Updated Mar 28, 2024 - Economy

What to know about the ripple effects of the Baltimore bridge collapse

In this aerial image, the steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of a container ship after the bridge collapsed, Baltimore, Maryland, on March 26, 2024.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of a container ship in Baltimore on Tuesday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The stunning collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Tuesday will have economic impacts far beyond the city of Baltimore.

The big picture: The Port of Baltimore, one of the busiest in the U.S., has halted vessel traffic indefinitely in the wake of the bridge's collapse — which is expected to affect the flow of commerce in the U.S.

  • Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) declared a state of emergency after a cargo ship, which he said issued a mayday call, struck the bridge early Tuesday. Search teams recovered the bodies of two of six missing construction workers on Wednesday. All were presumed dead.
  • The decades-old bridge offered a key transport helping link Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.
  • It's too early to determine how long the port will be closed, Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld told reporters Tuesday.

The Port of Baltimore is a vital waterway

The Port of Baltimore is the top handler in the U.S. of imports and exports of cars and light trucks, according to a statement from Moore's office last month. His office called it "one of the largest economic generators" in the state.

  • It ranks ninth among U.S. harbors for both tonnage and dollar value of foreign cargo passing through.
  • "The collapse of the Key Bridge is a global crisis," Moore said at a Wednesday briefing. "The national economy and the world's economy depends on the Port of Baltimore," he added.
  • "The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other port in the country."

By the numbers: In 2023, the port handled a record 52.3 million tons of international cargo, worth about $80.8 billion, according to state's archives.

  • The port supports more than 15,000 direct jobs and more than 139,000 indirect jobs connected to the port, generating almost $3.3 billion in total personal income.
  • Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson announced Wednesday that he would be introducing an emergency bill to pay workers impacted by the bridge collapse.
  • "The economic and stability loss to the thousands impacted in the days ahead cannot be understated," he wrote on X.

Between the lines: The port's location is a boon for business.

  • It's closer to the Midwest than any other East Coast port and is within an overnight drive's distance from one-third of the country's population, per the Maryland State Archives.

Significance of the Francis Scott Key Bridge

The Francis Scott Key Bridge opened in 1977 and is the outermost crossing of the Baltimore Harbor, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

  • Stretching 1.6 miles, the bridge sees about 11.3 million vehicle crossings per year, per MDTA.
  • The bridge also offers more traffic lanes and lower maintenance costs than a tunnel would have.

What other impacts have been observed?

The bridge's collapse snarled traffic on land and left some ships in the lurch.

  • The Maryland Transportation Authority began redirecting cars to alternate freeway routes after issuing a major traffic alert for Baltimore.
  • At least 10 commercial ships bound for Baltimore were forced to drop anchor in nearby waters Tuesday after port traffic was suspended, Reuters reported.

Between the lines: The bridge collapse just ahead of Easter could mean worse traffic than normal for both families and trucks traveling over the holiday weekend.

  • Several major companies — including Amazon, FedEx and BMW — have distribution warehouses and other facilities at an industrial park at the north end of the bridge, Bloomberg reported.
  • The bottleneck of imports and exports could also spur a shift to moving goods through West Coast ports, according to Bloomberg.

Go deeper: In photos: Baltimore bridge collapses after cargo ship collision

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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