Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed on Tuesday after being hit by an out-of-control cargo ship, may take years and cost upwards of $400 million to rebuild, according to expert assessments. At the same time, efforts to remove the bridge debris from the Patapsco River will likely take months, threatening the critical shipping channel out of the Port of Baltimore.

As the Associated Press reports, the reconstruction project could potentially be held back by a variety of factors, ranging from design complexity and the stability of the remaining portion of the bridge to bureaucratic red tape and contract bidding.

While optimistic estimates have suggested that the bridge could open to commuters within 18 months, other assessments have said it could take between five and seven years.

“The lead time on air conditioning equipment right now for a home renovation is like 16 months, right?” Johns Hopkins University engineering professor Ben Schafer told the AP. “So it’s like you’re telling me they’re going to build a whole bridge in two years? I want it to be true, but I think empirically it doesn’t feel right to me.”

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Regarding cost, low-end estimates put the price tag for the bridge repair at roughly $400 million—but that’s only if the old bridge’s existing support structure is reused. If the remnants of the bridge are structurally unsound, or if designers opt to place new supports further away from the shipping channels to avoid future collisions, the price could be anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion.

President Joe Biden has assured the public multiple times since the bridge collapse that the federal government will pay for the repair, but these pledges have yet to be backed up with official action.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg declined to put a precise timeline or dollar amount on the reconstruction, stating, “We still don’t fully know the condition of the portions of the bridge that are still standing or of infrastructure that is below the surface of the water. So, rebuilding will not be quick or easy or cheap, but we will get it done.”

However, early on Friday, the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration approved the release of $60 million to begin the cleanup, starting by removing the bridge debris and freeing the trapped cargo ship. This will, at the very least, clear a path for other ships to resume navigation to the sea, allowing for commerce to flow through the Port of Baltimore once again.

Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed on Tuesday after being hit by a cargo ship, may take years and cost more than $400 million to rebuild.
(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

Related: Cargo Ship Strikes Baltimore Bridge, Causing “Mass Casualty Event”

But while engineers begin drafting new designs for the bridge, national media outlets focused on a different subject: the bridge’s namesake.

Francis Scott Key, the Maryland author and poet for whom the bridge was named, is best known for writing the poem that would eventually become “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which became the national anthem more than a century after his death. But according to outlets like the Press, Key’s status as a slave owner in the early 1800s has made him a “controversial figure in some quarters.” Other outlets noted that statues of Key have been pulled down since the racial reckoning of 2020, but the Maryland bridge was named in his honor in 1977.

It is unclear if Baltimore officials will seize on the bridge’s destruction to suggest that it be renamed once construction is completed.

Connor Walcott is a staff writer for Follow Connor on X and look for him on VT’s “The Unusual Suspects.”

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