Rebuilding Baltimore Bridge Could Take Years, Experts Say: 'Will Not Be Quick or Easy or Cheap'

Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge originally took five years to complete — and experts are divided on how long the rebuild might take

<p>JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock</p>


  • Numerous factors will come into play when determining how long it will take to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore

  • Authorities will first need to assess its underwater foundation structure

  • Rebuilding the 1.6-mile long bridge could take up to four years, one expert said although others have offered different estimates, which range from 2 1/2 to 15 years

Rebuilding the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed on Tuesday morning after being struck by a container ship, will likely take years and will be dependent on a number of factors, experts say.

In the coming days, authorities will begin to ascertain just how long it might take by first assessing the bridge’s underwater foundational pieces, Illinois Institute of Technology engineering professor Gongkang Fu told USA Today.

“The pieces we don't see ... are more expensive than the pieces we see, normally,” Fu told the outlet.

The bridge over the Patapsco River, built over a five-year span and completed in 1977, may have several damaged piers, Hota GangaRao, director of the Constructed Facilities Center at West Virginia University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, told the newspaper.

Related: Baltimore Bridge Collapse Survivor Described Watching Ship Get Closer, Says Maryland Gov.

To that end, rebuilding the same 1.6-mile long span could take up to four years to complete, he estimated.

Other experts, including Benjamin W. Schafer, a professor of engineering at Johns Hopkins, agree that the process will likely be what Maryland Gov. Wes Moore termed a “long-term build" – but they have different opinions on how long the process will take.

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“I’ve lived through quite a few civil infrastructure projects,” Schafer told The Washington Post, adding that these kinds of projects rarely take less than 10 years to complete.

"I think that's what we're looking at," he added, noting that it took seven years to rebuild Tampa's Sunshine Skyway Bridge when it collapsed in 1980.

Speaking with The Baltimore Sun, he said that if he had to guess, a decade might even be a conservative estimate. "I would guess 10 to 15 years before — I know that sounds crazy — but before we look back over and we see a bridge jumping over the harbor."

However, Florida International University Civil Engineering Professor Atorod Azizinamini told The Washington Post that given the fact that the “world is watching,” things could move a lot faster, and that it could be completed as quickly as 2 ½ years from now.

<p>Harford County Md Fire & EMS PIO Media Page/Facebook</p>

Harford County Md Fire & EMS PIO Media Page/Facebook

On Wednesday, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said that the rebuilding process won’t be “quick or easy or cheap.”

“When we helped Pennsylvania and California swiftly reopen I-95 and I-10 respectively, there was terrific work done there,” Buttigieg said. “But that was addressing comparatively short spans of bridges over land relative to this span, over water. And of course, in the Baltimore case, 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.”

Related: 6 Baltimore Bridge Collapse Victims Remembered as ‘Fine People’ by Construction Company

He added, “So, rebuilding will not be quick or easy or cheap, but we will get it done.”

In remarks on Tuesday, President Joe Biden also pledged the federal government’s support — no matter the timeframe.

"It is my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge, and I expect the Congress to support my effort," Biden said. "To the people of Baltimore, I want to say, we're with you. We're going to stay with you as long as it takes."

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