Rebuilding Francis Scott Key Bridge could cost $1 billion and take 10 years

The cost of rebuilding the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, which collapsed in an accident last week, could be somewhere in the range of $400 million to $1 billion or more, according to reports and the timeline on the project may be a decade or longer.

This is more than double the cost and time of the bridge’s original construction, which took five years and cost around $200 million (adjusted for inflation). Engineers say that there are a number of factors that can influence the cost and timeline of the project that are still unknown. These include everything from how the new bridge is designed to the amount of time it takes to approve the permits needed for construction.

Johns Hopkins University engineering professor Ben Schafer told USA Today that he believes it could take a decade or longer to get a new bridge up and running. He noted that the original construction of the bridge took five years, while rebuilding Tampa’s Skyway Bridge after a freighter accident took seven years.

He said: “To actually recreate that whole transportation network, projects that large rarely take less than 10 years.”

To put that in perspective, it’s longer than it took to build the Hoover Dam (five years) and the Apollo space program (under eight years to make the rocket from scratch).

He also believes that it could take months rather than weeks to remove the debris from the cargo ship as well as the bridge itself before any construction can get underway.

The bridge collapsed a week ago after a cargo ship crashed into one of its supports, bringing the whole thing down and killing six people who were working on the bridge. The 984-foot cargo ship reportedly experienced a power outage and sounded a mayday right before the incident, giving police just enough time to stop vehicles from going over the bridge before impact. However, it is not yet known why the ship lost power or what other factors may have been at play.

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Another aspect of the reconstruction that is currently up in the air is how the new bridge will be funded. Although President Joe Biden has pledged funding from the federal government for the new bridge, it is not known whether that will come to fruition.

George Washington University engineering professor Sameh Badie thinks the timeline could only be a few years but believes the cost of the project could be astronomical. A bridge like the Skyway Sunshine bridge in Florida, which uses cables and towers to distribute weight, tends to be less expensive than suspension bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

High costs and limited qualified bridge constructors making situation complicated

However, the cost of steel is currently very high and there is also a backlog for beams. In addition, there are only a few construction companies that are capable of working on such a project, and the high demand for these professionals means that those who are qualified are already working on other projects. Although the work could theoretically be expedited given the urgent nature of the job, doing so will likely come with a high price tag.

Moreover, things are significantly different now than they were when the bridge was originally built. It seems unlikely that the replacement bridge would be built according to the specifications in the original plan. Instead, there will likely be lengthy studies into the environmental impacts of the bridge, despite the fact that a bridge has already been standing there for half a century. Moreover, hiring contractors could be a lengthy process, and it won’t be surprising if DEI standards must be met in the hiring process.

Officials have emphasized the significant impact the incident will have on the area, and part of the Baltimore Beltway and the city’s port have already been closed. Losing a highway that normally carries 30,000 vehicles per day as well as the port is expected to affect thousands of commuters and dockworkers, while American consumers will feel the financial impact of the resulting shipping delays.

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