Lawmakers in Maryland say the upcoming bill will make it clear that the federal government will fully cover the Baltimore Bridge replacement


WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of Maryland's congressional delegation announced Tuesday that they will soon introduce a bill making clear that the federal government will fully cover the costs of rebuilding Baltimore collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The federal government generally covers 90% of the cost and the state 10% when it comes to replacing interstate highways and bridges damaged by a disaster. But exceptions have arisen in similar emergencies, said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., after lawmakers attended a closed-door briefing on the cleanup effort. The legislation will also clarify that any funds collected from third parties will be used to reimburse federal taxpayers.

“The fundamental issue right now is passing legislation to make it clear that this is 100% federal jurisdiction,” Cardin said.

Officials said it was unclear how much money would be needed to replace the bridge, which collapsed last month after being hit by a cargo ship. Some experts believe the recovery will take some time at least 18 months and cost $400 million. But Cardin said the final decision will depend on the bridge's design and the modern technologies used to handle far more barge traffic than was originally envisioned when the bridge was built in the 1970s.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the Biden administration expects federal taxpayers will eventually be compensated for replacing the bridge, but that could take a while.

“However insurance disputes and other related litigation unfold, we will not wait for them to go out to ensure that these funds get where they need to be,” Buttigieg said. “And where they need to be now is helping the people of Maryland rebuild.”

The bridge collapsed on March 26 after being hit by the cargo ship Dali lost power shortly after leaving Baltimore, towards Sri Lanka. The ship issued a May alert, giving police just enough time to stop traffic, but not enough time to rescue a road construction crew that was filling potholes on the bridge.

More than 50 recovery divers and 12 cranes are on site to help cut out sections of the bridge and remove it from the important waterway. Crews began removing containers from the deck over the weekend and are making progress in removing portions of the bridge that lie over the ship's bow so it can eventually move, according to the Key Bridge Response Unified Command.

Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon of the United States Army Corps of Engineers spoke to the congressional delegation and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, about the recovery effort during a closed news conference at the Capitol. He then said there were 9,000 tons (8,165 tons) of steel and 3,000 tons (2,720 tons) of concrete at the bottom of the shipping channel leading into the Port of Baltimore.

“We are committed to getting this concrete and steel out of the canal by the end of May,” Spellmon said.

In the meantime, he said, officials are working to improve access to the port. He said a limited access canal 280 feet wide (85 meters) wide and 35 feet deep (11 meters) will be completed this month, providing one-way access for the majority of cargo coming and going from Baltimore will restore. He said captains would undergo training this week on how to use the canal.

Some Republicans in the House have said additional funding to replace the bridge should be offset by spending cuts elsewhere and that certain regulations such as the Endangered Species Act should be repealed to avoid delays and cost increases. They also want the Biden administration to lift its pause on approving liquefied natural gas export terminals before Congress considers approving funds to rebuild the bridge.

Maryland lawmakers hope replacing the bridge doesn't get bogged down in political disagreements.

“I just hope to remind all of our colleagues that disaster can strike your state, regardless of political makeup,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “…And I remember all of us as Americans coming together to support our fellow Americans when these disasters of this magnitude occur. I just hope that the overwhelming majority in the Senate and House of Representatives upholds this principle.”