Senior Maryland Pilot Warned Officials of Risk of Bridge Strike

Two years later, in 2006, an engineer with the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) joined the safety committee meeting to talk about standards for protecting bridge piers from ship strikes. At that meeting, Capt. Smith “stressed the importance of bridge protection” and “noted that the agencies should be meeting and discussing implementation possibilities.” No protection upgrades were planned, the engineer said, noting the high cost. He confirmed that the bridge piers were not designed to withstand a strike from a large, modern ship.

Here’s Kevin Drum commenting on the WP article. But there were warnings!

Then Smith retired in 2014 and no one else took up the cause. This is apparently because the committee mostly agreed that adding protection would cost nearly $100 million and the benefit was very hard to quantify.

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I wonder how many ship moves with an escort tug you could get for $93million ( or $2billion….). I wonder if that was ever discussed or minuted in a meeting.

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Carriers see Baltimore as a expensive port, compared to others on the East Coast. Aggregate of all cost including distance from sea. Bean counters drill down on individual items.

Can’t change the steaming time up and down the bay. Pilots cost structure is higher than others, two required and fewer vessel transits than other ports to spread equipment cost. Omitting escort tugs saves a small amount, the bridge is a few miles from the berth. Tug time alongside not long with or without escort, can’t make a big difference

Easy to see somebody in the carriers office arguing against escorts. Only way to assure safety is to require it.

Don’t disagree that the Key bridge should have had better protection.

The goal post did not change for the Dali.

It’s like saying the port should have ensured a much wider Fort McHenry channel if a ship strays out of the channel and runs aground.

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I don’t believe that building a small island of riprap around the bridge piers would need to cost anything like $100 million. Thats ridiculous.

Huge complex projects get built in high cost Alaska for that kind of money.

Even at $200 million that would be cheap compared to what happened.


The cost for pier protection for a bridge over the Delaware River, same highway, was $93 million.

According to the article getting approval to spend the money took “considerable political effort”. Money was raised using a bond measure and a toll hike.

The risk assessment for the Delaware bridge was done by a different agency. Assessment of the costs/risks should be done at the federal level.


The new pier and breakwater at Shemya Island in the Western Aleutians is costing $176 million.

Brice Turnagain JV nabs Shemya Island contract

September 19, 2022, by Eldin Ganic

The Alaska District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently awarded a $176.7 million contract for the long-term pier repair at Eareckson Air Station on Shemya Island, Alaska.

U.S. Army photo by Colby Thurston

This is the second contract award over $100 million this year for the district.

The pier is in a logistically challenging, remote location at the western end of the Aleutian Island chain, approximately 1,500 air miles southwest of Anchorage.

U.S. Army photo by Colby Thurston

The project includes creating a 560-foot combi-wall system to encapsulate the existing pier’s face along with the replacement of the existing pier deck.

According to USACE, this will provide a 50-year pier repair solution to the site that supports national security.

The contract was awarded to Brice Turnagain JV, LLC of Anchorage, Alaska, and is expected to be completed by 2026.

I cannot see how building a couple of small shallow islands around inland piers in Delaware Bay could possible cost half as much as building a breakwater and pier at Shemya

They must have built the Delaware bridge protection out of gold bricks.

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From the look of the structure in that picture, that pier is getting protection from waves, not ships (though it should work for ships, too).

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I don’t know if there are much demolition going on in Baltimore, or the area around?
If there are it should have been possible to use the rubble to create a barrier around the piers for the Key Bridge for a lot less money. (Too late now though)

PS> There will probably be somebody finding some reason(s) why such material should NOT be used. (Where is it disposed of now?)

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Aggregate is in very high demand for all types of construction everywhere .A lot of it is produced in local quarries almost everywhere. There must be a big quarry somewhere upriver from these bridges.

Jammer Materials LTD has a huge granite quarry in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada (just across the border from Maine). It ships thousands of tons of material in bulk cargo ships to the US Northeast. Thats not too far away from Delaware Bay

Engineers design projects to certain somewhat arbitrarily chosen specs. They often very stupidly don’t design based up what is available locally. Therefore materials often come from far away at enormous extra cost.

It’s not uncommon for aggregate to come from the Seattle/Vancouver area to remote projects in Western Alaska because it’s the only thing that meets specs. I’ve even heard of aggregate coming from Oregon to Western Alaska.

Small islands to protect bridge piers could also be built out of material dredged from the channel which could then be covered with armor rock to stabilize it.

I find it hard to believe that it needs to cost over $10 million to protect a typical bridge pier in a shallow river.

In some cases, bridge piers could be protected simply by not dredging too close to them.

There’s a major quarry at Port DeposIt Maryland 50 miles up the bay from Baltimore. The rock used expanding the Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay tunnel complexes comes from Port Deposit by tug and barge. Very large pieces.

Problem I could see using loose rock to protect the Key Bridge is slope space piled rock requires. On the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel rock system runs a long way. Islands 30 odd feet above sea level to near the 50-55 foot dredged channel edge. If a vessel strays out of the channel it will hit soft bottom before rock. Baltimore Key bridges design not very wide piled rock solution not likely.

Side note was in London last month. Walked over Tower Bridge built 1880s London was a major port until 1960’s lots of vessel transits. Tower bridge supports and block fender system massive, would probably stop the Dali.

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Narrow span bridges with span supports close to the channel would require a bulkhead (sheet pile is probably cheapest) with good fendering facing the channel. I can see how that could get expensive.

Rock fill doesn’t need to be all the way to surface to protect against impact from large vessels.
For argument’s sake, say up to a depth of 6 m. at HWS for protection from large ships in ballast.

Rock fill doesn’t have to be the same all around, only upstream and downstream to protect against “head on” impact from large/deep draft vessels.

For protection from smaller vessels and side impact from deep draft vessels the existing pier protection could be strengthened as necessary to cover worst case scenario.

PS> Rock nets may be used to reduce the slop, if necessary.

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Retrofitting an existing bridge likely is going to have higher costs than installing protection during construction.

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What could have been done one thing replacing the crossing another. It’s probably going be very different. Bridge tunnel combination or even another location down stream. Thing that complicates design what will transportation look like next 50 years.

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It still shows that we are a reactive society, not pro-active.

Regarding costs…

Among the many tariffs and fees levied on vessels calling on US ports is a Federal Harbor Maintenance Fee. In Houston only a small percentage of the fee collected from vessels calling here was ever spent in Houston. My understanding was the money not spent here was spent in other ports or dumped in the general fund.

I am curious about how much HMF was collected in Baltimore since 2006 and how much was returned in the form of harbor projects. Was there a surplus not spent in Baltimore? Would that surplus have been enough to protect the bridge?

Maybe an interesting investigative journalism piece for the Baltimore newspaper.

A lot of comments on the cost of protective measures for the bridge but consider if you protect one span then you need to protect others over alternate channels and you have to protect both the seaward and port side .
For two spans thats 6 bastions.
Costs are mounting.
Having now found justification for such measures it is not to late for other vulnerable structures.

Alternate channels for smaller vessels would need less protection, maybe none.

Cheapest way to protect is just not to dredge too close to the bridge pier, so that ships will run aground and stop before they hit it.

Second cheapest is to use material dredged from the channel to build an island around the bridge pier.

New bridges need wider spans to leave enough room for bridge pier protection islands.

Narrow bridges may need elaborate and expensive fendering. Thethered escort tugs and slower speed transits are probably cheaper

The bridge protection islands around the bridge piers in Tampa look very good to me.