Congressional Support Builds for Baltimore Aid

Biden Pledges Federal Funds for Key Bridge Rehabilitation
Joe Biden, Wes Moore
President Joe Biden speaks as Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (right) claps after an operational briefing on the response and recovery efforts of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge on April 5 in Dundalk, Md. (Julia Nikhinson/AP)

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Congressional transportation leaders are expressing support for approving emergency assistance to rebuild a bridge and adjoining infrastructure after the recent collapse at the Port of Baltimore.

The leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee on April 10 endorsed a hands-on approach meant to rehabilitate the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The two senators joined members of Maryland’s congressional delegation in calling on colleagues from both chambers to approve a funding assistance package.

President Joe Biden, who visited the port days after the collapse, also is championing a robust federal response. Last month, the bridge collapsed after it was struck by a containership.

“I commend the brave members of the [U.S.] Coast Guard and first responders who quickly conducted search and rescue efforts. Thanks to President Biden and the Army Corps [of Engineers] tirelessly working to reopen the Port of Baltimore,” committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said during a hearing April 10. “The Department of Transportation has already made $60 million available to the state to aid in the rebuilding efforts — but we know much more is needed. We stand ready to assist the people of Maryland and our important trade and transportation infrastructure that our economy counts on.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the panel’s ranking member, added : “I think the federal government needs to help to rebuild the bridge. Its collapse affects more than just the Baltimore region. With court cases likely taking years to resolve, it’s also sensible for federal taxpayers to front the money now with legal protections so taxpayers are paid back by the legally responsible parties.

“But it’s entirely reasonable to act now to fund it, but we must also minimize the bureaucratic dithering and delays that are all too prevalent with construction projects under this administration.”

The delegation from the Old Line State intends to propose legislation aimed at facilitating federal funds for rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts at the Port of Baltimore. Maryland lawmakers have yet to announce an amount to be requested as well as whether the measure would gain requisite bipartisan backing.

“We in Maryland believe this is, as we would believe if it were another port that had been so damaged, that this is a question that the entire country needs to address. We have done that before. We did it when that Minnesota bridge fell on an interstate and we acted. And we acted as a nation 100% paying for that Minnesota repair,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told colleagues April 10.

“We hope that and believe that the Congress will do the same,” Hoyer continued. “We are pleased that President Biden, in a very short time after the accident occurred, said that’s what the nation would do and that’s what he would recommend.”

On April 5, the president toured the site of the fallen bridge with local, state and federal lawmakers, senior agency officials and freight transportation stakeholders. He promoted an all-encompassing federal response.

“I fully intend, as the governor [​​Wes Moore] knows, to have the federal government cover the cost of rebuilding this entire bridge — all of it, all of it — as we’ve done in other parts of the country in similar circumstances,” Biden said. “And I stand here, I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible.”

Senior White House officials have sought support from congressional transportation leaders on the matter, and the administration launched a whole-of-government response to the collapse. Specifically, the president’s supply chain disruptions task force has “engaged extensively with state and local officials, Port of Baltimore leaders, industry, labor unions, ocean carriers, rail and trucking companies and ports along the East Coast to minimize economic disruptions. As a result of these discussions and collective efforts, import and export disruptions have been minimized,” according to background information from the White House.

Shortly after the bridge collapsed, the Federal Highway Administration provided $60 million in emergency aid for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

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As Secretary Pete Buttigieg observed: “The Biden-Harris administration has taken quick action finding every way to help Baltimore and the entire region get back on their feet.”

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Port of Baltimore remains open for truck transactions.

On March 26, the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed after the containership MV Dali struck it. Officials anticipate incrementally enhancing access to the site’s waterways over the coming weeks. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation.