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Mayor Scott: Bridge Collapse Still Causing Traffic, But Port Reopening Faster Than Expected

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge two months ago is likely to have ripple effects on the global economy that are still materializing. But for Baltimore City, the crisis immediately impacted two critical functions: vehicular traffic and port activity. 

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott speaking on Bisnow's webinar, moderated by Bisnow Editor-In-Chief Mark Bonner.

The effect on traffic from the loss of a bridge that carried 30,000 vehicles daily has been unavoidable, but the continued flow of cars through nearby tunnels shows there is still demand to travel into the city, Mayor Brandon Scott said Friday. 

Scott, speaking on Bisnow’s Building a Stronger Baltimore webinar with Bisnow Editor-In-Chief Mark Bonner, noted that the I-95 and I-895 tunnels remain open, as do I-83 and Route 40. 

“People are still coming into Baltimore City each and every day,” he said. “I take the tunnel probably more than anybody else, and yes, there is more traffic, because obviously to the south we lost a bridge and folks have to come that way now.” 

“They used to have three options, and now they have two, but people are coming in.”

Just as critical for the city's economy, goods are also coming into the Port of Baltimore, albeit in a narrower shipping channel. After opening temporary channels in April, last week crews removed the wreckage of the Dali and opened a 50-foot-deep, 400-foot-wide channel. Officials said last Tuesday they are still targeting the end of this month to reopen the full 700-foot-wide channel. 

The collapse brought the Port of Baltimore's typically busy cruise ship business to a standstill for two months, as Royal Caribbean, Carnival and other lines diverted their routes to Norfolk, Virginia. But on Saturday, the first cruise ship departed from Baltimore since before the crisis — Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas — and eight more are scheduled to depart in June. 

“If you had said to myself and Gov. [Wes] Moore on that first day we were standing out there looking at the wreckage from the shore that we would be at the point we would have cruise ships, we would have the channel open this wide and deep as we do, we probably would have told you this would happen months from now. But we’re talking about this port now starting to function again this early,” he said. 

The mayor attributed the progress to a “fantastic and dynamic” team of professionals from different agencies and levels of government working together to reopen the port. 

“Right now, we have this unified force solely focused on what we have been: the human elements of this, making sure that we recover and reopen the channel,” he said. “We know we’ve done that in a significantly faster pace than most people thought we’d be able to do, but that’s the strength of this unifying command. And now we’re looking to have the port fully open as we work together to bring all of that business back while we continue to support our workers.”

The small businesses that have been hurt most by the collapse, Scott said, are those outside of the city near the two ends of the bridge, while Baltimore's downtown has been less directly impacted. But downtown Baltimore was already facing economic challenges as fewer office workers commuted into the city each day, and Scott said he has been pushing to address that issue by creating more reasons for people to visit. 

He highlighted the Downtown RISE Strategic Action Plan his administration released last month. And he pointed to the examples of major projects happening downtown, like the planned Harborplace redevelopment, last year's opening of the new Lexington Market, the ongoing renovations of M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards, and the completed renovation of CFG Bank Arena. 

A 14,000-seat multipurpose venue, the CFG Bank Arena reopened last year after a $250M renovation. Scott, who selected a team to renovate the arena in 2020, said he received criticism at the time for trying to rehabilitate the arena rather than build a new one. 

“People told me I was crazy. They said that I was putting lipstick not on a pig but on a rat, and that no one would come,” he said. “And now people come. And the person who told me that, I saw him at a sold-out Janet Jackson concert last year and I told the gentleman, ‘The rat looks pretty good tonight.’

“And immediately after that, you saw investment start to come around there. Two hotels that have been vacant for a long time were purchased and turned into apartments just like that,” he continued. “And we're building from that strength across the city of Baltimore and across downtown.”