President Biden tours Baltimore bridge collapse, promises port's re-opening to come 'soon'

By Chris Benson & Ehren Wynder
President Joe Biden visited the site of the Baltimore Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse on Friday. Photo by PO1 Brandon Giles/U. S. Coast Guard/UPI
1 of 4 | President Joe Biden visited the site of the Baltimore Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse on Friday. Photo by PO1 Brandon Giles/U. S. Coast Guard/UPI | License Photo

April 5 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Friday visited Baltimore to survey the site of the Francis Scott Key bridge collapse and outline the federal government's response to the cleanup effort.

"The damage is devastating," Biden said, but he promised the port's customers that "we're coming back, and we're coming back soon."


Biden's visit comes as the U.S. Department of Transportation in a statement on Friday said it signed an agreement with Baltimore County to enable Tradepoint Atlantic to use a previously awarded $8.26 million DOT grant to increase cargo capacity at its Sparrows Point terminal in the Port of Baltimore.

The Sparrows Point terminal is outside of the area affected by the bridge collapse. The grant adjustment will help ensure automobile imports and exports continue in and out of the Port of Baltimore by increasing TPA's laydown capacity from 10,000 vehicles per month to over 20,000 per month.


The DOT said TPA has already begun grading at the site to be ready to take on the additional cargo by the end of April.

Prior to delivering remarks in front of the Port of Baltimore, the president met with the families and other loved ones of the six workers killed when the bridge collapsed into the Patapsco River after the 984 foot, Singapore-based ship Dali hit the bridge at about 1:30 a.m. local time on March 26 after the vessel experienced mechanical failures.

"The damage is devastating, and our hearts are still breaking," Biden said during his remarks Friday. "Eight construction workers were under the water when the bridge fell. Six lost their lives. Most were immigrants, but all were Marylanders, hardworking, strong and selfless."

Biden told the crowd the story of one of the workers, Carlos, who just before the bridge fell left a message for his girlfriend, which read, "We just poured cement, and we're waiting for it to dry."

"My vow is that we will not rest, as Carlos said, until the cement has dried on the entirety of a new bridge," Biden said.


The U.S. Department of Labor in a statement on Friday announced the Biden administration made an initial award of $3.5 million in emergency dislocated worker grant funding to the state of Maryland.

The funding will support new training for workers who have lost employment due to the disaster to find temporary employment as part of the cleanup and recovery efforts.

Maryland estimated 270,000 direct, indirect, or induced jobs will be affected by the bridge collapse and subsequent reduction of operations at the Port of Baltimore.

Biden also announced the Small Business Administration will offer low-interest loans to small businesses impacted by the collapse.

Big companies like Amazon, Home Depot and Domino Sugar, which rely on the port have committed to keep workers on their payroll and their businesses in Baltimore while the channel is cleared, Biden said.

"I call on every company at and around the port to continue to do the same; commit to stay,' Biden said. "And to the customers who use this port, we're coming back, and we're coming back soon."

Biden was joined by fellow Democrat and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, as well as members of the state's congressional delegation, including Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., and Baltimore's Mayor Brandon Scott.


"President Biden's freight initiatives that were originally stood up in the face of COVID disruptions are serving us well here," Buttigieg said. "For example, we used data partnerships that did not exist prior to 2021 to monitor changing container volumes along the east coast and help supply chain actors adapt"

Biden on Friday received an update from the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers and took an aerial tour of the area surrounding the wreckage in the Port of Baltimore to view the massive response effort.

The president said he intends for the federal government to cover the full cost rebuilding the bridge, as well as the quick release of $60 million in emergency federal funds as a "down payment" for the next steps in the recovery effort.

"As I stand here, I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible," Biden said.

A small, temporary channel has been made to allow work near the wreckage to continue with hopes of resuming limited river traffic for priority vessels via a temporary channel in the coming weeks.

On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers unveiled a tentative timeline to reopen Fort McHenry Channel "after detailed studies and engineering assessments by local, state and federal organizations, in collaboration with industry partners."


The USACE said they expect to open "a limited access channel 280 feet wide and 35 feet deep, to the Port of Baltimore within the next four weeks by the end of April." They added it will support one-way traffic in and out of the port for barge containers and for other select vessels.

"USACE engineers are aiming to reopen the permanent, 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep federal navigation channel by the end of May, restoring port access to normal capacity," according to the Army Corps.

On Friday, the White House budget director urged congressional leaders to approve 100% of the cost to rebuild the collapsed bridge, saying how the Biden administration stands ready to work with all stakeholders to ensure the "State of Maryland has what it needs to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which is critical to the Nation's workers and economy."

"This authorization would be consistent with past catastrophic bridge collapses, including in 2007, when the Congress acted in a bipartisan manner within days of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota," budget director Shalanda Young, wrote.

The Biden administration has taken several immediate steps to address the Francis Scott Key bridge wreckage in the aftermath of the Dali crash 10 days ago.


"Every day, over 30,000 vehicles traveled across this bridge, and I was one of those people," Biden said Friday, referencing his time in the Senate when he commuted to Washington, D.C. from Delaware.

On Monday, Jean-Pierre said the Department of Labor was working with local and state officials "to determine how to assist workers out of work due to closure of the port."

"Today, the [Small Business Administration] is launching two business recovery centers in Baltimore County. These centers will support impacted business owners' completing their disaster loan applications," she said at Monday's White House press briefing.

Ahead of Biden's visit, the far-right Congressional House Freedom Caucus posted a statement on X calling for the Port of Baltimore tp draw on already available federal funds before Congress considers emergency funding.

The HFC also called for "maximum liability" from the foreign shipping companies involved in the collapse.

"If it proves necessary to appropriate taxpayer money to get one of America's busiest ports back online, Congress should ensure it is fully offset and that burdensome regulations ... are waived to avoid all unnecessary delays and costs," the statement read.

Maryland's Port of Baltimore -- the United States' 17th largest -- generates approximately 15,300 direct jobs with nearly 140,000 jobs linked to port activities which saw $80 billion worth of business in 2023, according to the governor's office.


Scenes from Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore

A damaged container ship rests next to a bridge pillar in the Patapsco River after crashing into and destroying the Francis Scott Key Bridge at the entrance to Baltimore harbor on March 26, 2024. Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo

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