WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is prepared to provide federal funding to cover costs following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday in a White House press briefing.  

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks Jan. 23, 2023 at the Golden Gate Bridge. (sheilaf2002 / Depositphotos.com)

“We are committed to delivering every federal resource needed to help Maryland get back to normal and we’re going to work with them every step of the way to rebuild this bridge,” Buttigieg said.  

While there is no estimate on the cost of rebuilding yet, there are provisions in place that allow funds to be released while the estimate is being determined. The Maryland Department of Transportation has released an emergency relief funding request, which will be processed immediately to start the funding process, Buttigieg said.  

The infrastructure law authorized funding of the emergency relief account, which will most likely be used in this situation. According to Buttigieg, about $950 million is available. However, this money is used for other projects as well, so it is likely that Congress will be asked to authorize additional funding.  

“That shouldn’t be a barrier to the immediate next few days beginning to get the ball rolling,” he said.  

President Joe Biden met earlier in the Oval Office with Buttigieg and U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Gautier. The president also spoke by phone with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, chief of engineers and commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

“The people of Baltimore can count on us to stick with them at every step of the way until the port is reopened and Francis Scott Key Bridge is rebuilt,” Biden said in a post on X. “We’re not leaving until it’s done.” 

Buttigieg said officials did not have an estimate yet of costs to replace the bridge. He also declined to estimate how long it will take to reopen the Port of Baltimore. 

Any private party found accountable for the accident will be held responsible, Buttigieg said. However, Biden’s goal is not to have that process interfere with Maryland getting the financial help it needs, he said. 

Buttigieg said it was “possible if not likely” the administration will ask Congress for additional money to refill the emergency relief account. 

He said he hopes that some Republicans will work with Biden and Democrats to provide that funding. He also reminded members of Congress on the fence about supporting federal funding to remember that “today this is happening in Baltimore, tomorrow it could be your district.”  

“Infrastructure is, or at least ought to be, a bipartisan priority,” the secretary said. “I know that partisanship has gotten in the way of some important functions and expenditures, but I would also note that the infrastructure package that was passed is known as the bipartisan infrastructure law for a reason.” 

“I think in a situation like this where you have a national emergency where it’s gonna attract a lot of attention, I think it’s gonna get through rather quickly,” John Dedie, a political science professor at the Community College of Baltimore County told Capital News Service. “There are gonna be some people that may grumble in the House a little bit, but I think that under the circumstances people are gonna realize economically something has to be done to build this thing.”  

Buttigieg said the Department of Transportation will focus on reopening the port, dealing with supply chain implications until the port reopens, rebuilding the bridge and dealing with surface transportation implications until the bridge can be rebuilt.  

“The products that are now stuck behind the blocked channel are one piece of it, and that affects global markets everywhere,” Maryland Sen. Sarah Elfreth, a Democrat who currently serves on the state’s Budget and Taxation Committee, told CNS. “Not to mention what can’t come into the port for the time it takes to clear the channel.”  

About 8,000 jobs are directly affected and between $100 million-$200 million worth of cargo moves in and out of the port every day, according to Buttigieg.  

“Rebuilding will not be quick, or easy or cheap, but we will get it done,” he said.  

The accident investigation is led by the National Transportation Safety Board. The Coast Guard will also be providing investigators with its Marine Board of Investigation, which is one of the highest levels of investigation within the Coast Guard, Gautier said during the press conference.  

The greatest immediate challenge, the vice admiral said, is going to be the removal of the bridge trusses now draped across the bow of the cargo ship. The bow of the vessel Dali currently is sitting on the bottom of the Patapsco River but there are no signs that the hull is leaking. 

“What we do know is a bridge like this one, completed in the 1970s, was simply not made to withstand a direct impact on a critical support pier, from a vessel that weighs about 200 million pounds,” Buttigieg said.  

Although there is no timeline yet, Buttigieg expects that the clearing of the channel will happen on a much quicker timeline than the reconstruction of the bridge. The Army Corps of Engineers is beginning the underwater surveys to understand the possible challenges the debris presents, Gautier said.  

The State of Maryland is simultaneously conducting body recovery operations in and around the same area as the debris assessment, Gautier said. Six highway workers who were on the bridge at the time of the accident are missing and presumed dead. 

Biden plans to visit Baltimore as soon as possible, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. The Biden administration will work with local officials to ensure that a presidential visit would not disrupt the efforts at the scene. 

Capital News Service Washington Bureau reporter Torrence Banks contributed to this report.