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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks near the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, in Dundalk, Maryland, U.S., April 5, 2024. REUTERS/Nathan Howard

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks near the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, in Dundalk, Maryland, U.S., April 5, 2024. REUTERS/Nathan Howard

Biden Urges Congress to Approve Funds for Baltimore Bridge Rebuild

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April 5, 2024

By Jennifer Jacobs and Michelle Jamrisko (Bloomberg) —

President Joe Biden pressed Congress to quickly approve funds to rebuild a collapsed Baltimore bridge, visiting the site of a disaster that killed six people and shut a major shipping and transportation artery. 

Biden said Friday that Baltimore’s port would be able to accept some commercial traffic by the end of April and fully reopen its shipping channel by the end of May, thanks to recovery efforts. But he said the federal government must do more to fully restore the bridge and port, including paying for “all” of the rebuilding costs. 

“I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible,” the president said. “We will support Maryland and Baltimore every step of the way to help you rebuild and maintain all the business and commerce that’s here now.”

The nearby Sparrow’s Point industrial complex is being expanded to ease disruptions at the main terminal with $8 million in federal funds, Biden said. Major Baltimore employers, including Inc., Home Depot Inc. and Domino Foods Inc. have agreed to keep jobs and business in the city, he added. 

Biden visited Baltimore 10 days after the bridge’s collapse, taking an aerial tour of the wreckage before receiving a briefing on response efforts and meeting with loved ones of the six construction workers who died in the disaster. 

The bridge collapse plunged a massive jumble of concrete and steel into the Patapsco River, snarling traffic, threatening jobs and disrupting operations at one of the busiest US ports, raising renewed fears about supply-chain disruptions. 

The president’s vow for the federal government to bear the full cost of reconstructing the bridge adds yet another urgent item for Congress, which is already deadlocked over aid for Ukraine, Israel and the US-Mexico border. 

White House budget director Shalanda Young sent a letter to Congress ahead of Biden’s visit asking for a “100 percent federal cost share” for rebuilding the bridge. She said that was consistent with a bipartisan measure lawmakers approved in response to a 2007 bridge collapse in Minnesota.

Federal officials have told Maryland lawmakers that replacing the 1.6-mile (2.6-kilometer) bridge would cost at least $2 billion, including cleanup. The Department of Transportation has allocated an initial $60 million to defray costs.

Biden said he is “committed” to ensuring companies responsible for the catastrophe will “pay to repair the damage and be held accountable to the fullest extent the law will allow.”

The Singapore-flagged Dali cargo ship lost power March 26 and crashed into the bridge at the mouth of Baltimore’s port, sending the span tumbling into the river below. Ships are being rerouted to other ports while the critical East Coast hub awaits reopening. 

The port is one of the top US terminals for cars, coal and sugar. Vessels carrying cars would be able to start arriving at the port by month’s end, Biden said. 

Economic Impact

Economists forecast negligible effects on inflation and gross domestic product, but the administration remains concerned about strains on global supply chains and the Baltimore economy, particularly the livelihoods of thousands of blue-collar workers whose jobs are directly connected to the bridge and port.

Senior White House officials had called major Baltimore employers, including big retailers like Amazon and Home Depot, to urge them to retain workers before Biden’s Friday announcement. Federal officials have also approved low-interest loans to support small businesses and are monitoring shipping and trucking flows.

The 47-year-old Key bridge was a major transportation link for the eastern seaboard and the local area, carrying 30,000 vehicles daily on Baltimore’s arterial highway and serving as a key route for hazardous materials banned from the city’s tunnels.

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading a probe into the ship’s crash. Investigators are looking at tainted shipping fuel, which has caused engine failure on other vessels, as a possible cause, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity to discuss the ongoing probe.

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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