Buttigieg says he has no idea when Baltimore bridge debris might be cleared: ‘A very complex process’

Buttigieg says he has no idea when Baltimore bridge debris might be cleared: ‘A very complex process’

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg couldn’t give a time frame Sunday for when debris from the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse will be cleared from the critical mega US shipping channel.

“We haven’t received a timeline yet,” the country’s top transportation chief told CBS’ “Face the Nation” of the massive expected clean-up of the wreckage from the destroyed Baltimore span, which runs roughly 1.6 miles over the Patapsco River, a key transportation route that handled a whopping $80 billion in cargo last year.

“This is going to be a very complex process, there are even now forces acting on that steel,” Buttigieg said. “So it takes a lot to make sure that it can be dismantled safely to make sure that the vessel stays where it is supposed to be and doesn’t swing out.”

Buttigieg also couldn’t say when the Baltimore bridge might be rebuilt. Shutterstock

In the early morning hours Tuesday, the container ship Dali lost control and rammed into a pier of the Maryland bridge with an estimated force of up to 100 million newtons — enough to launch a space rocket, the New York Times reported. The bridge quickly collapsed.

The waterway served as a crucial gateway to the Port of Baltimore, which fielded about 1.1 million containers carrying a record 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo last year. The port operated as a top entry point for sugar and gypsum, a mineral used for everything from fertilizer to drywall — and also has been the leading export port for cars in the country.

“The work is now under way, parts of the non-federal channel are already being worked on,” Buttigieg said. “And there is a thousand-ton capacity lift crane on a barge being put into place now there’s another 600-ton crane on its way to back it up.”

An estimated 8,000 people work at the port.

Multiple reports have indicated that the Dali lost power, which prompted it to go haywire. Authorities have yet to release an official cause for the catastrophe.

The busy Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore fell into the Patapsco River after being struck by the Dali cargo ship. AP
Weather and other complications have posed hurdles for authorities trying to clear out debris from the heavily trafficked waterway. Getty Images

Buttigieg added that there aren’t any estimates yet for when the bridge, named after the author of the poem that inspired the National Anthem, can be rebuilt.

“I can tell you the original bridge took about five years to build,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily inform us about the timeline on the reconstruction. A lot goes into how that reconstruction will be designed.”

Experts say construction of a new bridge could cost a minimum of $400 million, according to The Associated Press. Buttigieg is hoping that Congress will kick in significant funding.

At the moment, the federal government is leveraging $60 million in emergency relief funds through the Federal Highway Administration to deal with the aftermath of the disaster, Buttigieg said.

The Dali was estimated to have projected a force against the bridge similar to the power of a rocket launch. Getty Images
Wreckage from the collapsed span rests on the Dali as efforts begin to clear the debris. Getty Images

“it is possible we may need to turn to Congress to supplement that fund. That has happened in the past, if you remember the 2007 bridge collapse in Minnesota, ultimately about $260 million,” he said, referring to the deadly fall of the I-35W span over the Mississippi River.

“The pitch is your district could be next. And also this has historically been bipartisan,” the transportation big said.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore stressed that this crisis affects much more than just his state.

“This is a national economic catastrophe as well,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “This is going to impact the farmer in Kentucky. This is going to impact the auto dealer in Ohio. This is going to impact a restaurant owner in Tennessee.

“The Port of Baltimore is the largest port in the country for all of those things.”

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