Internet InfoMedia coast guard studying if other bridges at risk following baltimore bridge disaster

The U.S. Coast Guard said it is evaluating whether bridges across the country are at risk following the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore in March when a Sri Lanka-bound container ship hit the structure, causing it to fall into Baltimore’s harbor, killing six construction workers.

Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Gautier said at a U.S. House hearing on Wednesday that he is convening a nationwide board of inquiry to assess current risk management tools and propose actions to “reduce the risks of major incidents.”

He said that the size and complexity of ships have grown over the years, placing greater demands on marine transportation infrastructure.

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Vice Admiral Peter Gautier at a hearing

Vice Admiral Peter Gautier, deputy commandant for operations at the US Coast Guard, during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on May 15, 2024. The container ship that rammed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge in March lost power multiple times on both the day of the fatal accident and the day before. (Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Gautier said the nation’s infrastructure may not have kept pace with the increased risks that these vessels pose.

In April, the FBI opened a criminal probe into the collapse. Maryland estimates it will cost $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion to rebuild the bridge and anticipates completion by fall 2028. It is still unclear what caused a massive 985-foot long cargo vessel to apparently lose control and strike a pier, also known as a pylon, a critical part of the structure that keeps the deck of the bridge in place.

Some bridges, like The Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa, have several barriers in place for protection.

A spate of other recent incidents involving barges has highlighted the vulnerability of bridges to strikes.

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Baltimore bridge

A cargo vessel moves through a newly opened deep-water channel in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A barge crashed into the Pelican Island Bridge in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday, causing a section of the bridge, including railroad tracks, to smash down onto the barge.

Just last Thursday, a barge struck the Fort Madison Bridge in Iowa and later sank in the Mississippi River.

In that incident, the U.S. Coast Guard told Fox News Digital that 15 barges were being moved by a tug boat when one of them got loose and collided with the nearly 100-year-old bridge.

Last month, more than two dozen river barges broke loose from their moorings and floated down the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, striking one bridge that had already been preemptively closed and damaging a marina, officials said.

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Pelican Island Bridge collapse

The Pelican Island Bridge in Galveston was struck by barge Wednesday, causing a portion to collapse. (KRIV)

The boats eventually were pinned to the riverbank or went over a dam downstream.

National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy said at the hearing her agency has been recommending since 1988 that the Coast Guard and Federal Highway Administration review the adequacy status of pier protection for bridges over navigable waters, U.S. ports and waterways.

She praised the Coast Guard announcement of its planned review but said states, the federal government and bridge owners must also review any bridges that could be at risk and urged them not to wait.

“Do a risk assessment — you can do that now,” Homendy said.

She said it will take about 18 months to produce a final report on the Baltimore disaster, but urged officials to issue urgent safety recommendations even sooner.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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