Outmoded bridge design likely contributed to Baltimore catastrophe

By Tanya Snyder | 03/28/2024 11:50 AM EDT

After a Florida bridge collapse tragedy, bridges were required to be built with protective “fenders” — but not until the 1990s.

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In the 1970s, when the Francis Scott Key Bridge was designed, ships were dramatically smaller and engineers would not have foreseen the behemoth container ships of today. Claudine Hellmuth/POLITICO

The collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge on Tuesday after a collision with a massive container ship could have been mitigated with simple “fenders” that have been standard issue on new bridges since the 1990s.

Today these fenders are standard to be installed around supporting beams for new bridges to help blunt potential impact from cargo ships. They help combat the ever-increasing size of ships just like the thousand-foot-long Dali, which sent the bridge into the Patapsco River.

“Had [the Key Bridge] been designed for the criteria that were developed after the 1990s, I think it would have survived this event,” said Sherif El-Tawil, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan.


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