Updated Apr 1, 2024 - Business

Baltimore to open "temporary alternate channel" for ships

 Debris is cleared from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge as efforts begin to reopen the Port of Baltimore on March 31, 2024, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Debris is cleared from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge as efforts begin to reopen the Port of Baltimore in Baltimore, Maryland, on Sunday. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday Baltimore would see more federal funding to assist in the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse response, but it's too early to say how long recovery and rebuilding efforts will take.

The big picture: The Port of Baltimore, one of the busiest in the U.S., halted vessel traffic indefinitely after a cargo ship struck the bridge and caused its fatal collapse early last Tuesday.

  • Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that the matter was "not a Baltimore catastrophe, not a Maryland catastrophe," but a "national economic catastrophe as well."
  • He added: "We need to make sure we're actually moving quickly to get the American economy going again, because the Port of Baltimore is instrumental in our larger economic growth."

State of play: The captain of the Port is "preparing to establish a temporary alternate channel on the northeast side of the main channel" in the vicinity of the bridge for "commercially essential vessels," per a Sunday night statement from the Unified Command, an umbrella group of agencies established in response to the bridge collapse.

  • "This action is part of a phased approach to opening the main channel," added the statement that did not immediately detail what kinds of ships would qualify for the route or how.
  • "The temporary channel will be marked with government lighted aids to navigation and will have a controlling depth of 11 feet, a 264-foot horizontal clearance, and vertical clearance 96 feet."

Demolition crews began cutting portions of the north side of the collapsed truss bridge on Saturday, the group said in an earlier online statement.

  • Two crane barges, a 650-ton crane and a 330-ton crane, were working on scene over the weekend to help lift and transfer the wreckage.
  • "Three dive teams with the Unified Command are surveying sections of the bridge and the M/V Dali [ship] for future removal operations," according to a Unified Command statement earlier Sunday evening.

What they're saying: "We're using an authority called the Emergency Relief. This is through our Federal Highway Administration. That's how we got those first $60 million out and there will be more," Buttigieg told CBS' "Face The Nation" on Sunday.

  • "I hope and expect this too will be a bipartisan priority," he said, noting previous funding for a 2007 bridge collapse in Minnesota.
  • Buttigieg said his message to skeptical lawmakers was "the pitch is, your district could be next, and also this has historically been bipartisan."

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) told "Face the Nation" Sunday the city's port "is the No. 1 port for cars and farm equipment" and this "should not be something that has anything or any conversation around party" lines.

  • "We are talking about an American tragedy to an American city, American port city, that means so much to this country in the world, and no party conversation should be involved at all," he added.

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Editor's note: This article and its headline have been updated with details of the alternative shipping channel plan.

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