Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

The Aftermath of the Baltimore Bridge Collapse

| Mar. 26, 2024

Authorities suddenly need answers to questions that few people were contemplating last night.

The rapid collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore early this morning touched off a frantic search for survivors—and gave Americans a frightening reminder of the fragility of the many systems that allow us to go about our lives. The sun rose to reveal twisted metal atop the cargo ship Dali, a long underwater obstruction keeping ships from moving in and out of the port of Baltimore, a major tear in the transportation network, and great uncertainty about how the catastrophe would ripple across the economy.

When the errant Dali struck a support pillar, motorists were using the bridge and work crews were fixing potholes on it. Local officials' immediate focus is, as it should be, on rescuing any who might have survived and comforting the families still waiting for news. Authorities quickly and rightly put to rest speculation about terrorism. An investigation into what happened on the ship has been announced. In the meantime, the public and its elected leaders must improvise answers to a question that few people were contemplating last night: What would happen if a major piece of our infrastructure disappeared in the dark? How do we respond to what could be a lengthy disruption to a lifeline of the region's maritime and transportation networks?

Whether any bridge's support structure could withstand a direct hit by a ship as large as the Dali is an open question at this hour. Maryland Governor Wes Moore said at a news conference this morning that the fallen Baltimore bridge had been "fully up to code."

A lot of American infrastructure is in poor shape....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“The Aftermath of the Baltimore Bridge Collapse.” The Atlantic, March 26, 2024.

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Juliette Kayyem Headshot