Biden Vows To Make Congress Pay To Replace Collapsed Baltimore Bridge

Congress has done it before following a similar disaster, but a decline in bipartisanship since then makes it a more challenging ask.

President Joe Biden said Tuesday he expects Congress to fully cover the cost of rebuilding the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, which collapsed overnight after it was rammed by a massive cargo ship.

“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 in brief remarks at the White House before departing for a campaign event in North Carolina.

“We’re going to spend all the federal resources they need as we respond to this emergency... and we’re going to rebuild that port together,” Biden added.

The office of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) declined to comment on how Congress plans to address the disaster, which authorities are calling a “mass casualty incident.”

There’s a precedent for the type of assistance Biden has requested. After the 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, both chambers of Congress voted unanimously to send $250 million in emergency assistance to Minnesota to help with the cleanup and rebuild. The catastrophic failure of that bridge killed 13 people and seriously injured dozens more, highlighting the dangers of the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

But it’s unlikely that an increasingly divided Congress will be able to reach such a quick consensus on a similar disaster just less than two decades later.

The president also reiterated Tuesday that the crash seemed to be the result of a “terrible accident” and not an intentional act. Authorities say the cargo ship struck the bridge at roughly 1:30 a.m. after its operators lost control of the vessel due to a likely power failure.

The disaster sent cars plunging into the freezing waters of the Patapsco River and forced the closure of one of the country’s busiest shipping channels, the Port of Baltimore. Biden noted that some 850,000 vehicles are imported and exported through the port each year.

The bridge could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to reconstruct, and could take months, if not years, to rebuild, even on an emergency timeline. Construction on the 1-35W bridge in Minneapolis was completed in 14 months.

Built for roughly $110 million in the 1970s, the Francis Scott Key Bridge opened in 1977 as one of the longest continuous-truss bridges in the United States. More than 30,000 vehicles crossed the 1.6-mile span every day. The collapse snarled traffic across Baltimore, prompting Biden and other officials to promise an immediate response.

“I’m directing my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and build the bridge as soon as humanly possible,” Biden said.

Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.

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