Baltimore bridge collapse shutters port indefinitely, impacting supply chain

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday after a container ship lost power navigating the channel and collided with one of the bridge's support pilings has resulted in the indefinite closure of the Port of Baltimore, which will impact the supply chain on the Eastern Seaboard and beyond.

Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a professor in the Department of Maritime Business Administration at Texas A&M University – Galveston, told FOX Business that companies with cargo bound for Baltimore are working to reroute those shipments to other ports with the capacity to handle 

"The first candidate will be New York, then it's going to be Hampton Roads, which is in Virginia, Philadelphia – but it's also a lower capacity, so it's a bit more difficult for Philadelphia," Rodrigue said. "But New York and Hampton Roads can handle this traffic."

He added that it would not be a problem for those ports to handle the traffic from "ro/ro" ships – which can accommodate cars driving on and driving off – given Baltimore's role as a key port for automobile shipments.

The Port of Baltimore handles more auto cargo than any other U.S. port with 750,000 vehicles flowing through the port in 2022, according to port data. Ford and General Motors each announced that they are working to reroute auto shipments that were scheduled to go to Baltimore and said the impact would be minimal.

The port also serves as a hub for other goods including coal, as it was the second-busiest port for coal exports in 2023. It is also the largest port by volume for farm and construction machinery, as well as sugar and salt. Its indefinite closure could create bottlenecks in the supply chain, resulting in delays and higher costs for certain goods on the Eastern Seaboard.

In February, the Maryland governor's office announced that the Port of Baltimore's public and private terminals handled a record 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo valued at $80 billion in 2023, a record amount of cargo. That figure includes about 1.3 million tons of ro/ro farm and construction equipment plus 11.7 million tons of general cargo tons. It also handled 1.1 million 21-foot equivalent unit containers.

Baltimore area residents are also going to face increased traffic congestion with the bridge out of action. The Francis Scott Key Bridge, named for the author of the U.S. national anthem, is a key thoroughfare that had an average traffic volume of 31,000 cars per day or 11.3 million vehicles per year on the I-695 highway.

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