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After the bridge collapsed, the governor of Maryland called on Congress to appropriate funds for reconstruction

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By Gabriella Borter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As efforts continue to clear thousands of tons of steel debris from the collapsed bridge at the Port of Baltimore, Maryland Governor Wes Moore on Sunday urged Republicans to work with Democrats to secure federal funding needed to rebuild the bridge approve and get the port economy back on its feet.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed early Tuesday morning, killing six road workers, when a container ship nearly the size of the Eiffel Tower lost power and crashed into a support pole. Much of the span collapsed into the Patapsco River, blocking the Port of Baltimore's shipping channel.

The Biden administration on Thursday released $60 million in initial emergency aid to help clear bridge debris and reopen the port, the largest in the U.S. for roll-on-roll-off operations. Vehicle imports and exports for agriculture and construction are equipment. The port has been closed since Tuesday, leaving the jobs of around 15,000 people who rely on its daily operations in limbo.

Federal officials have told Maryland lawmakers that the final cost of rebuilding the bridge could rise to at least $2 billion, Roll Call reported, citing a source familiar with the discussions.

Democratic President Joe Biden has pledged that the federal government will cover the costs, but that depends on passage of legislation authorizing the funds by both the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate. The divided Congress has been repeatedly rocked by partisan fights over funding, with hardline Republicans often at odds even with members of their own party.

Moore, a Democrat, said Republicans should be prepared to approve funding not only for the benefit of the city of Baltimore, but also the national economy.

“The reason we need people to move across party lines … is not because you need to do Maryland a favor,” Moore told CNN on Sunday. “We need to make sure that we actually act quickly to get the American economy back on track because the Port of Baltimore is instrumental to our greater economic growth.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed optimism Sunday that Congress will approve the funds needed for the cleanup and reconstruction, noting that the divided Legislature passed Biden's $1 trillion infrastructure package in 2021.

“If there is anything else in this country that is more bipartisan than infrastructure, it should be an emergency response. “It’s both, and I hope that Congress will be ready when we turn to them,” Buttigieg told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “

Biden was scheduled to visit the bridge collapse site this week.

A huge crane began cutting up parts of the collapsed bridge on Saturday to prepare it for removal. This is the first step in a lengthy and complicated clean-up operation. A spokesman for the governor's office said Sunday that a 200-ton (180-ton) piece of the bridge had been removed and officials were working to find the best strategy to pull the ship from the wreckage.

Later on Sunday, officials said they were preparing to establish an alternative route for “commercially important vessels”, although few other details were provided and the timing of the opening of the alternative route was not clearly announced.

In a statement, coordinator Capt. David O'Connell said the alternative “would support the flow of maritime traffic to Baltimore.” Videos released by emergency officials showed Coast Guard officers throwing buoys into the water near the collision site.

The debris and dangerous weather conditions made it impossible for divers in recent days to continue searching for the four remaining bodies of the deceased construction workers, Moore said.

Moore and other officials declined to provide an estimated timeline for reopening the port and rebuilding the bridge.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Washington; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien, Hannah Lang and Raphael Satter; Editing by Mary Milliken, Leslie Adler, Jonathan Oatis and Michael Perry)