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Opinion: Our nation cannot afford partisan delays in recovery from the Baltimore bridge collapse

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Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

On March 30, cranes begin cleanup work on the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge and the container ship Dali in Baltimore.

Editor's note: Larry Hogan served as Governor of Maryland from 2015 to 2023 and is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. To read more opinion on CNN.



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America may be politically divided on historic levels, but there is no red or blue economy. As Congress meets for the first time since the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, leaders of both parties must recognize this truth. The consequences of this tragedy are not just a Baltimore or Maryland problem. The economic fallout from the closure of one of America's most important ports is already affecting workers and consumers in Republican- and Democratic-majority states across the country.

State of Maryland

Former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

The March 26 collapse after a container ship struck a bridge pier resulted in the loss of six lives and the destruction of a key transportation corridor across the Patapsco River. Alliance debris blocked access to Baltimore Harbor. This port is the largest transshipment point in the United States for sugar and large agricultural and construction equipment such as tractors, combines, forklifts, bulldozers and heavy-duty trucks. As American farmers prepare to plant their crops, we cannot afford to lose access to the critical equipment they need to feed our country.

The difficult access to the port also has a profound impact on the automobile market, as Baltimore is an important national transshipment point for cars and trucks, with a throughput of 850,000 last year alone. After years of supply chain challenges in the automotive market that hurt workers, car dealers and hard-working families struggling to find an affordable vehicle, even greater disruptions will have devastating consequences. The impact of the port closure is already being felt across the automotive industry nationwide, such as in Louisiana and Florida.

This is not a theoretical problem. In recent years, we have seen supply chain disruptions caused by a global pandemic cause hardship and lead to unaffordable prices. While many ports across the country were struggling with crippling shortages at the time, the Port of Baltimore remained operational and, thanks to my administration's investments to expand port operations, even added container ships to fill the gap. Now this important national resource has been taken off the table, at least temporarily.

When unexpected disasters threaten our country, Congress has traditionally stepped up to offer bipartisan support—disasters do not distinguish between red and blue victims or districts. But in recent years, even disaster relief has increasingly become just another partisan game, as victims of Hurricane Sandy recall, who waited months for aid to be approved. This cannot happen while we are recovering from the bridge collapse.

There is no room for delays, blame or crazy conspiracy theories. More sensible minds must prevail. Republicans and Democrats at the local, state and federal levels must put aside their sacred cows and get this done.

First, leaders should work together to provide immediate financial support to the thousands of hard-working longshoremen and other port operations employees who are now unemployed. This is not charity. It is a necessary investment to prevent this short-term challenge from leading to longer-term disruption. If these professionals are forced to find work elsewhere, it will take much longer to get the port operational again, even if the canal is cleared and opened in the next few weeks.

Second, don't waste time discussing other unrelated issues that could delay funding to clean up the debris from the collapse and rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Rebuilding the bridge is critical to the port's operations and also to traffic on Interstate 695, as 12.5 million vehicles will cross the bridge in 2023. This cannot be an excuse for inaction. Our economy cannot wait for a lengthy political or legal process to recover payments before rebuilding.

Third, Congress must cut unnecessary red tape and simplify environmental and Endangered Species Act reviews to enable the bridge to be rebuilt as quickly as possible. Some are already saying that the red tape will slow down the process by several years. This is unacceptable. In 2022, when I led Maryland, we opened the new Nice Middleton Bridge over the Potomac, similar in size to the Francis Scott Key Bridge, under budget and ahead of schedule.

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We should not tolerate political, legal or regulatory delays in building a bridge that is already an integral part of our economy. That doesn't mean cutting corners. We must fully comply with all environmental and safety regulations, but deny activist groups the opportunity to potentially delay the process unnecessarily and drag it into endless litigation.

There is a clear precedent for a bipartisan approach with as few obstacles as possible. In August 2007, the I-35W-Mississippi Bridge in Minneapolis suffered a catastrophic failure and collapsed, killing 13 people. Within days, the House of Representatives and Senate agreed unanimously, and President George W. Bush signed legislation to finance the bridge's reconstruction in an expedited approval process. In just 13 months, the bridge was replaced and opened to traffic.

Recovery from such a disaster was not a partisan issue then, nor should it be today. With our livelihoods and our economy at stake, we must cut through the partisan nonsense, hold both parties accountable and get things done. This is what Marylanders and our nation really want from their leaders. This is much bigger than politics. We rise and fall together as a nation. And the Francis Scott Key Bridge needs to be rebuilt soon.