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Veteran Maryland pilot raised risks from potential Baltimore bridge strike nearly two decades ago – Washington Post report


An exclusive report by the Washington Post reveals that a veteran Maryland pilot had voiced concerns about the risk of a collision between a large vessel and the Francis Scott Key Bridge at least as early as 2006. The pilot continued to raise the matter during local meetings for years of the Baltimore Harbor Safety and Coordination Committee.

Detailed records uncovered by the Washington Post also indicated that at the staff level, the Maryland Transportation Authority was aware that the bridge was “not designed to withstand collisions from large vessels.” 

The possibility of a ship hitting and damaging the bridge came up at least as early as 2004, when pilots’ representative Capt. Joe Smith voiced concerns about the need for solid communications protocols should a ship go off course near the bridge.

Two years later, in 2006, an engineer with the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) joined the safety committee meeting to talk about standards for protecting bridge piers from ship strikes. On that occasion, Capt. Smith “stressed the importance of bridge protection” and “noted that the agencies should be meeting and discussing implementation possibilities.” No protection upgrades were planned, the engineer said, observing the high cost. He stressed that the bridge piers were not designed to withstand a strike from a large, modern vessel. 

The Washington Post also reported that Delaware’s bridge transport authority assessed that the risk of a catastrophic ship strike on the Memorial Bridge, 60 miles away, was too high. Thus it launched in 2015 a comprehensive pier protection plan for the Memorial Bridge. Construction began on the eight protective steel-and-rock dolphins in 2023, with completion slated for 2025. The final cost has been estimated at $93 million whereas the cost of replacing Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge struck down on March 26 by the DALI containership has been expected to attain $2 billion.

(NTSB photo of collapsed bridge)