Pray for the missing, and the survivors of the FSK Bridge collapse. The immediate is a thankfully small human tragedy. What is to come will be much worse.

Baltimore is about the 12th or 13th busiest port in the United States. For all intents and purposes, consider it offline for at least a year. For the next few months, the ships that are there are likely to stay there, and no new ships will arrive. This is going to have several major impacts.

First, goods that would normally arrive there and be distributed will not. This is going to impact logistics and supplies in the mid-Atlantic region rather significantly. Second, Baltimore is on the ropes financially and otherwise. Right now, I sure don’t have a clue how bad the impact will be to a city already teetering on the brink, other than to say it’s going to be very, very bad. Third, how bad it will hit our national economy is something I don’t really want to think about right now. It’s not going to be good, but I can see scenarios where the level of suck could truly sucketh mightier than a Hoover. Fourth, don’t forget that the bridge is part of a major interstate, and a good stretch of 465 is now offline. That will impact not only interstate transportation, but will hamstring a significant segment of local regular traffic as well.

Could it have been deliberate? Yes, but for now there is insufficient data to say yes or no. Could it have been an accident caused by shipboard problems? Yes, but for now there is insufficient data to say yes or no. The thing to keep in mind right now is insufficient data. Once we have more data, then we will know what happened and why. As someone noted on X, the odds favor that this was an issue warned about, that steps could have been taken to prevent, and that nothing was done. I would add to it the likelihood that such steps were deemed too expensive and unnecessary by bureaucrats at the time — and now we face financial and other impacts that are several orders of magnitude worse.

And, yes, I’ve watched some of the video and yes it does appear almost as if it turned straight into the support — from one angle. That said, it also looks as though the ship suffered at least two power outages as it approached. For all that it looked like someone tried to step on the power and maneuver (note the plume of black smoke), a ship that size does not handle like a sports car. You might want to think of the Evergreen in the Suez.

Meantime, I’m going to pay attention to John Konrad and Sal. Unlike many/most pontificating right now, they have real-world experience that puts them well ahead of others. Pay attention to them. I plan to.

Also, as you pray for those involved, pray for the nation and the impact this is going to have. Yes, you have Savannah, Philadelphia, and other ports but there are limits on how much of the Baltimore traffic they can take on, and expanding those ports is a non-trivial challenge. That they can and will do so is good for them and the area around them, but that’s also going to be an additional hit on the already tottering Baltimore.

It’s a lot more than just a bridge. Keep that in mind, and keep in mind the likelihood that there could be other hits. Be prepared.

UPDATE 1: As I note in the comments, I wish they had gone with a tunnel to start with and if our leadership had a brain they would switch to one now despite the time and expense involved. That said, the key to replacing the bridge is likely to lie with the supports. If they can be used as is, or with only minor repairs at or below the waterline, the replacement could take place rather rapidly. If they have to sink new pylons into the bedrock, that is a time-consuming process, even if relatively straightforward. If they can use any of the existing approaches and inner spans, that too could speed things up. Those, however, are going to need a detailed engineering survey as I suspect the outermost upright spans took a lot of torsion and other stress. Which could mean replacement. Having been a very minor part/on the sidelines for a major rebuild once, make it a challenge: Put up a sum of money and have people bid on doing the job for that amount, with the caveat that if they complete within one year or less and bring it in meeting all engineering and safety specifications but for less than that amount, they still get the full amount. You would be amazed at not only what gets done, but the improvements that still take place within such an environment.

UPDATE 2: To those hitting the tip jar today, THANK YOU! I can’t tell you how much you and the help are appreciated.

UPDATE 3: The tunnel idea is getting a lot of approval from the naval types (especially on X), and some justified pushback from those who note the restrictions on same. Putting in a tunnel will either increase traffic time around the city for those who can’t transit the tunnel or put more traffic onto surface streets. Good points on both sides.

Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving once we have medical issues cleared up, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

30 thoughts on “Baltimore”

  1. Taught the kids: Can’t undo what’s done. You’re up, you’re it. What’re you going to do? What can you effect? MOVE!

    The ‘94 earthquake dropped a critical span of the 10 in LA. Was gonna take a year, eighteen months. Doom. Contractors with the proper incentives got it done it … what … four months?

    This may turn out to be a pivotal stress test for the U.S. Do we have the caliber of LEADERSHIP to take command, or do we signal the world that we’re this easily beaten? Do we turn Americans loose on the problem, or do we let Biden and the Rear Admiral turn this into a diversity exercise.

    We’ll know in time who what where why. Meanwhile, JOE, GET THE HELL OUT OF OUR WAY!

    1. From a purely mechanical standpoint, reconstruction should not be difficult. From an engineering standpoint, the real key is with the supports. If the current pylons/supports can be used to any degree, it will greatly speed up the replacement since they should be well into the bedrock. However, if they are damaged and have to be repaired or replaced, it will take time to drive new pilings into the bedrock as that simply is a time-consuming process. Wish they had done a tunnel as originally planned (they switched to a bridge to save up-front money) and it really would be the best thing now. That said, replacing has been decreed, so…

      1. The difficulty with a tunnel is restrictions on what can go through it. There is truck traffic that used the Key bridge (from what I understand) because it can’t easily go through the tunnels that exist.

        It’s not that everything can’t ever go through a tunnel, but that some things require shutting down any tunnel to all other traffic while the problematic material is transiting. I see it all the time with the tunnels where I live (Tidewater area of Virginia).

        Also, tunnels take more time to build, on top of the more money.

        1. Good point on the restrictions, and while tunnels do take time and money, they generally are better for navigation and hazard mitigation. 🙂

          1. Yea and nay on the disaster mitigation issue. Yea, large ships cannot crash into a tunnel. Nay, fire hazards in tunnels are not easily mitigated. In engineering, there are always trade offs to be made. There is never a perfect solution, just a best solution.

        2. Exactly right! The Key Bridge was built so vehicles carrying hazardous materials (including RVs, campers, etc. carrying compressed gas) on I-95 would have a reasonably direct route pass Baltimore without needing to drive through Baltimore’s local streets. Rebuilding Key Bridge as a tunnel would result in chaos on the local traffic patterns.

    2. The Baltimore bridge was designed before the collapse of the Tampa Skyway in 1980. Were the lessons learned in Tampa ever applied to Baltimore?

  2. Given the amount of time it takes to get a bridge built I would imagine the Biden Administration’s approach is just let nature take its course as the ongoing decline in Baltimore’s population will probably make the need to handle that level of traffic redundant in a few years

    However given that it is an election year and need to get the shipping lane reopened is critical, who wants to bet that DEI and other federal regulations get waived to get the job done? Sounds like a good place for Trump to visit I a month or 2 if things aren’t fixed

    1. If it were only Baltimore, your estimation of the offset of the decline against the catastrophe would make sense. Yet Baltimore is actually a commuter feeder to DC on a daily basis, which will cause the mess to ooze all the more.

      1. Oh…let’s hope it does land on DC hard and mostly. But the fact is that this port handles a wide variety of inputs/outputs for a great many things. So it isn’t just about Wagyu beef and caviar, champagne and cocaine for the DC set. There are real core industrial impacts about to unfold.

  3. 465 … err 695.

    Another good source… Sal Mercogliano (especially for civ issues/traffic).

    that bridge originally took 5 years to build… I’m wondering if we start taking bets… how much and how long… I’m betting over a billion (after all the graft) and never completes. I think Baltimore is done for harbor ops. If they get a channel cleared/dredged of debris, those ships and cruiselines are going to ensure they never stay long there again.

    1. Agree on Sal, really should have linked to him but know K&S do so regularly. As for the other, eh. Just glad I’m doing better on fine details this week than I was last week. Stupid lightning.

  4. goods that would normally arrive there and be distributed will not
    Not just that, but everything on that ship and stuck on the other ships in port won’t get to the other ports they were supposed to arrive at. The Dali was fully loaded and headed to Colombia, IIRC? Even if we take all of those containers and transship them by land to other ports, it’s going to significantly delay their arrival, and increase the costs of getting them there. Then, of course, the bureaucracy to get them off the ships and onto American trucks/trains with, perhaps, goods that are illegal or heavily tariffed in America, and then sent out again – with or without customs checks? Oof.

    And, impacting other points on the globe is a good way to cause their economies to shift. And maybe to cause shipping companies to not prioritize American ports.

    And, of course, the lawsuits are still to come. The shipping company here is one of the largest in the world. They have very deep pockets. This one incident is going to impact LOTS of things.

    it also looks as though the ship suffered at least two power outages as it approached
    Yes, it had two electrical outages – I think one from the engines dying and one from the emergency backup system. But the ship did call in that it had lost engines. And without them a ship that size simply will not turn.

    Two big things to take away from this, given the information so far, IMO*:
    The tugs needed to remain with this ship until it was past the Key bridge. That large of a ship should be tugged until it is pointed at open sea with no further obstacles in its way. (And, speaking to several mariners, that was the way of things the last time they were up there.)
    And, those bridge footings needed to be protected with barriers. Make ths ship crumple and sink before it can touch the actual bridge footings.
    (* My opinion, but my Merchant Marine BiL agrees. As do Navy (SWO) folk I know.)

    Also, if it were a terrorist incident, it was a particularly stupid terrorist. Despite the long-term impacts on goods delivery and such, they killed a small handful of people – because it was 1:30 in the morning. Rush hour would have been the time for a terrorist to strike.

    1. Agree on timing, if it were deliberate. Thankfully, not so though I am less than thrilled at the idea of PP maintenance and upkeep being the likely cause Agree on the tugs, one thing everyone I respect is saying should have/should be done. As for the barriers, which are a great idea, sounding like they were proposed and shot down for cost (lack of graft?) by the politicians.

      1. sounding like they were proposed and shot down for cost (lack of graft?) by the politicians.
        Which should surprise no one here, sadly. /sigh/

        (Though, a smart Republican – I Pollyannishly assume there must be one in Baltimore or Maryland – would find those politicians’ statements and voting record on such a thing and make 100 ads about it between now and November. “Yeah, this guy said it would be too costly; Is rebuilding the bridge ‘too costly’?”)

    2. Really good points about both the tugs and protection for the footings, especially given the design of this bridge. The demised structure was not originally conceived for the threats of today. That point needs to be conceded. But much could have been done in the interim to rectify such reasonably justified shortcomings.

      At this time, this looks a lot like negligence interacting with random chance, in the absence of better data on whether something more nefarious actually occurred.

  5. I have been commenting here and there online about the disaster befalling Baltimore but this appears to be of no moment at the moment. Does impoverished Baltimore no longer count? Was it good for The Wire and then that was that?

    You state that you believe more will be known when there is more data. There are two questionable assumptions here. First, that reliable data exist and are susceptible of being gathered and analyzed. Second, that there will be a quest for causation. I sense no groundswell of desire to understand what happened. There is not world enough or time (or capacity to bore others!) to comment about what this says about the diminution of the American spirit.

    Yet we press on, notwithstanding Biden’s too quick promise to pay and Buttigieg’s conclusion that racism caused the collapse.

  6. Not sure why the port has to close. It obviously existed long before the bridge was even built.

  7. Maryland needs a north / south hazmat route separate from I695 or at some point there will be a real tragedy between a hazmat carrier and snarled local traffic. That means a bridge over the harbor somewhere.

  8. I hate the tunnels they already have in Baltimore – or any sub-river tunnels. They’re the same to me as overpasses in Southern California: death traps. An overpass collapse during an earthquake was my constant fear, and any time I got stuck in traffic beneath an overpass, I could come close to panic. Being crushed would be horrifying, but buried alive even worse. Tunnels hold all the same potential for disaster as do overpasses, with some extras. For instance, while hazmats are “banned” from tunnels, there’s nothing to preclude a jihadi truck bomber from bringing down the house one fine day. Worse, though, is the fact that EVs are not treated as hazmats – yet. The first EV or electric bus that goes up halfway through the I-95 tunnel under Baltimore Harbor, trapping hundreds of cars and pumping out lethal combustion products, will be the event that has us all saying “Why didn’t we do something to avoid this?” And it will happen.

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