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Biden Says US Should Pay to Rebuild Downed Baltimore Bridge

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said the US government ought to pay to rebuild a major bridge in Baltimore that collapsed Tuesday, and called on Congress to approve the funds.

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Biden said he directed authorities to “move heaven and earth” to reopen Baltimore’s port as soon as possible, and said federal agencies are assisting with search and rescue efforts around the Francis Scott Key Bridge. All information “indicates this was a terrible accident” and not an “intentional act,” Biden added.

“It’s my intention that federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge, and I expect the Congress to support my effort,” Biden told reporters Tuesday at the White House.

The bridge catastrophe poses a fresh challenge for Biden, halting shipping traffic at one of the most important ports on the US East Coast. That has the potential to snarl supply chains and drive up the cost of consumer goods ahead of the November election.

Biden said he planned to visit Baltimore “as quickly as I can.”

Clearing and constructing a new bridge is expected to cost billions of dollars. The need for more federal funds comes at a time when Biden is already struggling to persuade lawmakers to approve emergency aid for Ukraine, Israel and the southwest border.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore said there is no estimate for when shipping operations will be restored, telling reporters the focus is on search and rescue efforts.

Read More: Biden Wants US Government to Pay to Rebuild Bridge: TOPLive

“It’s going to take some time,” Biden said. “The people of Baltimore can count on us to stick with them at every step of the way until the port is reopened and the bridge is rebuilt.”

A lengthy shutdown will also cause chaos for commuters — more than 30,000 of whom use the bridge every day — as well as Easter holiday travelers who must contend with worse than usual traffic on the already clogged highways between Washington and New York.

The Port of Baltimore is one of the top US ports in terms of volume and value of cargoes, and the largest for handling cars and light trucks. It also handles large amounts of sugar, gypsum, coffee and coal for export.

The bridge stood at the mouth of the port, allowing commercial ships to enter. Another supply-chain complication is that the bridge was the main route for hazardous materials that are banned from being transported through the city’s tunnels.

The Singapore-flagged Dali container ship struck a bridge pillar in the early hours of Tuesday, causing it to snap and the rest of the bridge to tumble into the river below. Several vehicles and people fell into the frigid waters and rescue teams searched for survivors.

Asked if the company behind the ship should be held responsible, Biden said “we’re not going to wait for that to happen” to get the bridge rebuilt and reopened.

Rebuilding the Key Bridge is likely to cost “several billion dollars,” according to Yonah Freemark, an Urban Institute researcher. Freemark drew parallels to the reconstruction of the Brent Spence Bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky, which is expected to cost around $3.6 billion and is shorter than the Baltimore span.

Moore said there were eight construction workers repairing potholes on the bridge at the time of the collapse. One has been hospitalized, another was in touch with authorities but not in the hospital and six remain missing, according to the governor. Moore was unable to say if any vehicles were on the bridge when the collision occurred or were presumed missing.

The US Coast Guard is helping to lead search-and-rescue efforts, Biden said. Federal authorities are conducting an investigation and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was expected to visit the scene Tuesday.

The incident occurred before morning rush hour. The ship’s crew issued a mayday and said they were experiencing power problems, allowing transportation officials to stop bridge traffic, which prevented more casualties, Moore added.

(Adds Biden’s intent to visit Baltimore in fifth paragraph)

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