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Baltimore bridge funds hit roadblocks

Lawmakers disagree on the terms of payment for rebuilding the Francis Scott Key Bridge

A crane used by salvage crews to remove Francis Scott Key Bridge wreckage from the cargo ship Dali Getty Images/Photo by Kevin Dietsch

Baltimore bridge funds hit roadblocks

As the House of Representatives returns to Washington from a two-week recess, they’ve got to decide what to do about Baltimore’s bridge problem.

On Monday, salvage crews began to clear debris from the deck of the Dali—the 985-foot shipping container that struck and collapsed the Francis Scott Key Bridge last month. Although cleanup of the destroyed Baltimore landmark is underway, its reconstruction is more uncertain. What’s now a twisted, half-submerged wreckage site took three years to build and cost Maryland $141 million in 1976 (about $769 million in today’s dollars), financed primarily through state bonds. Experts estimate the replacement price tag could be as high as a billion dollars.

In the past, Congress has paid for rebuilding after similar disasters. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the scene of the collapse and noted that Congress had approved $250 million in funding just two days after the Interstate 35 bridge just outside Minneapolis collapsed in 2007. A replacement bridge opened just one year later.

“I hope and expect this, too, will be a bipartisan priority,” Buttigieg said the day after the incident.

Many of the most conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives believe that if the government is going to pick up the bill—as Congress has done for similar disasters in years past—they should make sure it is not pushing the country further into debt to get the job done. In particular, the conservative House Freedom Caucus wants to tie the bridge’s funding to some other policy gain.

“Before Congress considers any emergency supplemental funding for the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, it’s important that (1) we first seek maximum liability from the foreign shipping companies upfront and (2) the Port of Baltimore draws upon already available federal funds,” the statement read. The group added that any bill that funds the bridge shouldn’t include other side projects.

The Freedom Caucus also argues that the rebuilding funds should come from already-approved sources of funding. If that’s not an option, the group has called on the Biden administration to undo its pause on approvals for new liquified natural gas (LNG) exports to non-free trade agreement countries. In their view, if the bridge is going to cost the federal government, now is not the time to tamper one of the country’s strongest areas of energy revenue.

The United States was the world’s leading exporter of LNG in 2023, accounting for almost 14 billion cubic feet per day—a 12 percent increase over exports in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

President Joe Biden didn’t address the Republican demands last week as he delivered an address in Baltimore.

“Everyone, including Congress, should be asking only one question, and they’re going to be asked the question by your delegation: How can we help? How can we solve that problem? I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible,” Biden said on Friday.

In the meantime, The White House noted that it had deployed other forms of federal aid to assist in the cleanup, including efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with $60 million in “quick release” emergency appropriations.

Back in Maryland, Nick Allen, a state delegate, is keeping an eye on the funding discussion with a bit of apprehension.

He represents Maryland’s 8th District, a 10-minute drive north of the bridge, and sits on the Environment and Transportation Committee.

“I hear it every day from constituents who work at the port, near the port, and simply constituents who used to rely on the bridge for their daily commute. A huge piece of our beltway is gone, and that has disrupted the entire region’s daily routine,” Allen said.

Maryland’s transportation authority released a detour map with three alternate routes for travelers. One cuts through Baltimore’s southern side, another uses a bridge just north of the Key Bridge, and a final route circumvents the entirety of the city in a 41-mile loop.

Aside from the commuter changes, the bridge’s collapse also comes at the expense of the port’s efficiency. According to a 2023 report, the port’s closure could cost the city $15 million a day in lost revenue.

Allen said he believes Congress should take a leading role in fixing the bridge and not use it to play “partisan games.”

“The bridge was a part of Interstate 695—a federal road,” Allen said. “The shipping company should absolutely be held accountable for all negligence that might have led to the disaster. But we simply cannot wait for investigations to get the port and the entire region’s commerce rolling again.”

Considerations for the bridge’s emergency funding come as Congress is set to entertain a slew of highly contentious items—including reforms for one of the nation’s key spy tools, foreign aid funding for Ukraine and Israel, and more. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has not issued a statement about the bridge’s funding or whether he intends to bring a measure to the floor to address the collapse in the coming week.

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


This keeps me from having to slog through digital miles of other news sites. —Nick

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