Divers, Engineers Plan to Remove Key Bridge Remnants Using Giant Buckets, Hydraulic Shears

April 11, 2024
Girders of the Francis Scott Key Bridge stick out of the water around the remaining structural support pier.

BALTIMORE — Giant salvage buckets are hauling up the remnants of the Francis Scott Key Bridge roadway to clear space for workers to use hydraulic shears to cut a bigger part of the structure into smaller pieces.

Removing the spans of the bridge that collapsed into the water March 26 after being struck by a ship and that are sinking into the bed of the Patapsco River is the most complex task of the cleanup effort, Col. Estee Pinchasin of the Army Corps of Engineers said at a news conference Wednesday. But the team of engineers and divers has a plan.

“Once they dig out and expose the chords on the bottom of the truss, divers are going to go into the water and place the hydraulic shears on the spans that they’re going to cut,” said Pinchasin, referring to the two outside steel beams of a bridge truss that connect and brace it.

Pinchasin spoke in front of a 3D image of the wreckage created with sonar. That representation shows how the roadway, mud and debris fell on top of the mangled bridge spans that sit next to the base of one of the bridge’s main pillars that still stands.

Pinchasin said crews are preparing to cut a 240-foot bridge span that weighs around 1,500 tons into two pieces. Once separated, they will be lifted and taken by barge to Sparrow’s Point.

Pinchasin, as well as Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath, reiterated Wednesday that they are on track to meet the end of May deadline to reopen normal port access set last week.

Officials also said Wednesday they still plan to open a third temporary channel around the wreckage for limited traffic sooner.

“We’re on track to open up a 35-foot deep channel by the end of April, and the length of that channel is going to be 280 feet,” Moore said Wednesday.

Moore also said that 25 people are assigned to daily recovery efforts to locate the bodies of three men who are presumed dead and remain missing in the collapse. The bodies of three other men, who were part of the same road crew repairing potholes on the bridge, have been recovered.

Staff with the Governor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs are in “constant contact” with the men’s families, Moore said, with 30 employees assigned to help families in need.

Moore also said Wednesday that crews have removed 34 shipping containers from the Dali, the Singapore-flagged ship that destroyed the bridge, and plan to remove 144 more.

“We are removing containers from the bow of the vessel to give us better access to the bow so that we can safely remove those pieces of the bridge that are on top of the bow,” Gilreath said Wednesday. “That is essential to us to be able to refloat the vessel and remove it.”

Pinchasin added that engineers are planning to dredge around the Dali to free the ship from the river bottom where it’s currently grounded.

Gilreath said 58 vessels, mostly tugboats and barges as well as the Pride of Baltimore, have passed through 11- and 14-feet-deep temporary channels on either side of the wreckage.

In Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, questioned whether the government was taking quick enough action in response to the bridge collapse, given its impact on the Port of Baltimore and the economy.

“I can’t help but think that China would have cleared the wreckage in days. I hope this episode doesn’t become another punchline about a nation in decline or a symbol of our increasingly sclerotic and bureaucratic approach to public works projects,” Cruz said in a statement.

Cruz called on Congress to pay for the bridge to be rebuilt while minimizing the “bureaucratic dithering” and delays that are “all too prevalent with construction projects under this administration.”

Moore, in response, praised President Joe Biden’s administration for its quick response on March 26 and in the days since. Biden visited Baltimore and the wreckage site on Friday. Moore invited Cruz to come and show his support.

“It was the federal government and it was this administration who called my phone and all of our phones at 3 o’clock in the morning (on March 26),” Moore said. “It was the federal administration and the Biden administration that was on the ground that morning. It was the secretary of transportation who was on the ground literally as the sun was coming up.”


©2024 Baltimore Sun. Visit baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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