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The last big lift of Key Bridge wreckage is complete. When will the channel fully reopen?

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Posted at 5:35 PM, Jun 07, 2024

BALTIMORE, Md. — The real heavy lifting is over. Salvage crews pulled the last huge piece of the Key Bridge out of the Patapsco River earlier this week. It was a two-day process.

"If this were a football analogy, then we would be on the 3-yard line. But we don’t want to fumble the ball by leaving anything behind," Colonel Estee Pinchasin with the Army Corps of Engineers told WMAR-2 News.

Just because there's no longer any steel sticking out of the water, that doesn't mean it's all clear below the surface. There are still pieces of the bridge buried deep in the muddy riverbed.

"One of those just now we pulled out a full span of what used to be 695. That’s four lanes of traffic in width of a piece of wreckage that came up," Col. Pinchasin said in an interview on Friday.

The team's motto is 'no steel left behind.' The largest ships that call on the Port of Baltimore only have about a foot of clearance to the bottom of the channel. So right now, crews are conducting surveys of the riverbed, then pulling out anything they find.

"We’ve been aiming for this window of the 8-10th of June. This portion of the work tries your patience because you know that you have to wait for the results of the survey to see what else is there. But we are going to be just as diligent and disciplined as we always have," Pinchasin said.

The current channel is wide enough for any and all ships that would call on the port to pass through. But it's limited to one-way traffic, and there are some weather restrictions. Once the channel is "fully" reopened, those restrictions will no longer be in place.

"That'll give a lot more flexibility to the pilots and the shipping teams that are coming in."

Depending on how much work gets done Friday, and whether survey results show any remaining wreckage in the mudline, the channel could reopen as soon as Saturday.

"It’s almost like a self-imposed pressure. We want to do this for Baltimore. We want to do this for the region. We want to do this as fast as we can, but as safely as we can," Pinchasin said about the urgency.

Relfecting on the past 73 days, Colonel Pinchasin is proud of the Unified Command's safety record, and teamwork.

"It's amazing to see what our country can do when we all come together."