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Navy should take the lead to protect waterways after Baltimore bridge collapse

An Army Corps of Engineers member is seen surveying the damage from the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore.
David Adams
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/DVIDS
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Navigation staff observe the damage resulting from the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, March 26, 2024. In accordance with USACE’s federal authorities, USACE will lead the effort to clear the channel as part of the larger interagency recovery effort to restore operations at the Port of Baltimore.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.

The Navy should use its influence with local and state transportation officials to call for a review of the bridge system in Hampton Roads after the collision and collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore last week, said Professor Zia Razzaq, who teaches civil engineering at Old Dominion University.

The disaster highlights a need for additional safety measures that could prevent a similar accident from stopping the flow of goods in the area, Razzaq said.

The Navy’s desire to keep shipping lanes open has shaped Hampton Roads. It is one of the reasons that the area has a system of tunnels rather than bridges, he said.

“What if one of those links is destroyed at the wrong time? During wartime, it would be extremely bad news,” he said. “The other thing is some of these bridges in the Tidewater area are crucial links from north to south for transportation.”

The Navy feared sabotage could trap an aircraft carrier or cargo ships carrying military supplies. It fueled their opposition to building bridges over major shipping channels in the 1950s and 1960s.

While Baltimore is not a major military hub, the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge cut off at least two Navy cargo ships from the ocean.

Systems have already been developed to shield bridges with pilons to potentially stop the type of accident that happened in Baltimore. It is a matter of convincing transportation officials that the risk is worth spending the money to retrofit the bridge built decades ago, he said.

“Honestly, it's not very pricey,” Razzaq said. “They can actually put protective systems, at least on piers associated with the most critical bridges. If they are not made use of for 50 years, then so be it. But there could be one crazy bad day.”

The cargo ship Dali collided with a bridge pier in Baltimore early Tuesday morning. The impact caused the bridge to tumble into the water, killing six people and blocking the entrance to the harbor.

A Navy spokesman referred questions about what action will be taken in the aftermath of the bridge collapse to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Navy equipment has already arrived in Baltimore to help clear the collapsed bridge, including four large barges and 12 cranes, which will support the U.S. Coast Guard effort to reopen the waterway.