U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

April 27, 2024

Full Steam Ahead

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

It’s hard to believe it’s been one month since we awoke to the horrific news that the Francis Scott Key Bridge had collapsed into the Patapsco River. As the cargo ship Dali lost power and all control, it slammed into one of the bridge’s supports. The result was catastrophic.

Thanks to quick action by the Bay pilots who were on the Dali, helping to guide it out of the Port, and law enforcement on both sides of the bridge, traffic was stopped in time to keep regular travelers from falling into the river with the bridge.

Sadly, a construction crew of eight remained on the bridge filling potholes at the time of the collision. Along with their families and friends, we mourn the loss of Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, Carlos Daniel Hernández, Dorlian Castillo Cabrera and Maynor Suazo Sandoval, as well as Miguel Luna and José López. Two others survived the bridge collapse. All of these workers were doing the work that needed to be done to keep our roadways safe. We know their families and local community will never be the same.

Over the last month, the rescue operations evolved into recovery, which, in turn, has led to the salvage operation – removal of the remnants of the bridge. Giant cranes, including the “Chesapeake 1000,” have been pulling massive pieces of steel out of the river and on to ships where they have been brought to Sparrows Point to be examined and then disposed of. In addition, the bodies of Miguel Luna and José López have yet to be located. Bringing them home to their families remains a high priority.

Reopening the shipping channel also has been a high priority. The Port of Baltimore employs more than 15,000 individuals directly with 1.1 million containers of cargo processed in 2023 alone. These numbers do not even include the downstream economic impact of the Port’s operations.

On Thursday, the first of five ships that had been stuck behind the Dali finally was able to leave port.

Thanks to the incredible work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and a cadre of salvage contractors from across the nation, temporary shipping channels have been cleared at increasing depths – now 35 feet – over the last four weeks. This was ahead of original time estimates and keeps the work on track to restore the full 50-foot depth next month.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked with keeping the federal Port of Baltimore’s shipping channel clear and safe for decades and they continue that mission today. The USACE will cover the cost of clearing the bridge debris and restoring the thruway for ships of all sizes. The Coast Guard, meanwhile, is carefully managing traffic through temporary channels to ensure the safe passage of vessels and that the Port’s most critical services are restored. 

On land, the federal government quickly approved funds from the aptly named Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief (ER) Program for Disaster-Damaged Highways and Bridges. An initial $60 million has been put to work towards rerouting traffic and initial cleanup. These ER funds are 100 percent covered by the federal government for the first nine months. I am working with my congressional colleagues to pass legislation I introduced that would ensure full federal support for the future bridge, with taxpayers being reimbursed for with any insurance or other payouts due from potentially accountable parties.

The State of Maryland has been providing support to the thousands of dockworkers and others whose livelihoods were jeopardized by the bridge collapse and limited work at the Port. This includes $8.7 million in state funds to 125 businesses to retain about 1,500 workers. Maryland also has received 1,800 applications from individuals who typically would not be eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, but are able to apply for support through the state’s disaster programs in place. The U.S. Department of Labor also has provided $3.5 million from its emergency National Dislocated Worker Grant fund to create temporary clean up and recovery jobs for workers impacted by the bridge collapse.

Numerous small businesses in Maryland rely on the Port of Baltimore and the Francis Scott Key Bridge for the transportation of their goods and the U.S. Small Business Administration quickly set up disaster recovery centers in Baltimore City (Canton), Dundalk and Anne Arundel to facilitate Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EDIL) for affected small businesses across Maryland and the surrounding region.

To date, more than 1,000 applications are in process for these low-interest loans with hundreds more applications being vetted by SBA.   

The filing deadline for EIDL is December 30, so even though some businesses may be able to ride out the initial crunch of this disaster, as traffic patterns change and businesses adapt, we understand there may be difficult economic times ahead.

This has been a long, hard month after a tragedy that has permanently changed the Baltimore region and travel up and down the East Coast – for cars, trucks and ships. Thanks to dedicated workers and strong leadership at all levels, including our congressional delegation and the Biden-Harris administration, Gov. Wes Moore, Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, we are on track to have the Port of Baltimore back at full strength very soon.

Replacing the Francis Scott Key Bridge will take much longer. That too, is moving full steam ahead. Our Team Maryland will continue to fight for and ensure resources, funding and relief from the federal government to address not just the economic impact facing Maryland but the entire country because of this disaster. I will keep you apprised of progress as we learn more.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this or any other topic. I appreciate all of the feedback we receive.


Ben Cardin