The main shipping channel to the Port of Baltimore has been fully restored, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Monday, more than two months after the Key Bridge collapsed after a cargo ship struck a support.

Federal and state authorities also certified the riverbed as safe for transit and for two-way traffic. Salvage crews have been clearing the debris and removing the wreckage for weeks to return the channel to its original operational dimensions. The channel, which provides access for all vessels in and out of the Port of Baltimore, is 50 feet deep and 700 feet wide.

“We are proud of the unified efforts that fully reopened the Federal Channel to port operations,” Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, commanding general of the Corps, said in a press release. “The partnerships that endured through this response made this pivotal mission successful.”

Crews will continue to remove steel and survey the wreckage site.

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Final steps before main channel reopened

Crews spent Sunday sweeping the wreckage site with sonar, LIDAR and magnetometers to identify and investigate any high spots to ensure there’s no residual hazard to navigation.

The Chesapeake 1000 crane and attached hydraulic grabber on Friday pulled out of the federal channel a 90-ton piece of residual wreckage from the Key Bridge.

“We are going to be as thorough and disciplined as we have been since the beginning — we owe it to Baltimore and the Port, to turn over a safe navigation channel they can use with the greatest of confidence,” said Col. Estee Pinchasin, the Corps’ Baltimore District commander.

Salvage crews worked around the clock to remove debris ever since the bridge collapsed, but last week, the last large steel truss that was blocking the Fort McHenry federal channel was removed.

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Salvage crews used concrete breakers, underwater surveys and oxyacetylene torches to separate tons of concrete roadway, cable and steel rebar from “Section 4C” while removing debris with clamshell dredges.

A piece of Interstate 695 is still atop the Dali, which is now docked at the Port of Baltimore, on May 24, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

It took two days to lift the truss, a structure of tons of concrete roadway, cables and steel rebar.

Previously, crews completed the lift of a roughly 500-ton steel section of the Key Bridge truss that had been buried in the river mudline and had pinned the Dali for weeks.

Crews previously made way for some vessels, including cruise ships, to access the Port of Baltimore through temporary channels.

The Army Corps of Engineers says the full reopening will allow two-way traffic.

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“We’re using survey vessels with sonar technology to map the bottom of the riverbed and to see what the elevation is,” Pinchasin said. “The bottom is still covered with debris, road wreckage and the roadbed that we used to drive on.”

‘Our bread and butter’

Reopening the federal channel will restore normal shipping traffic, boost Baltimore’s economy and help thousands of jobs impacted by the disaster.

Gov. Wes Moore and President Joe Biden walk out for a press conference about the Key Bridge collapse at the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Headquarters in Dundalk on Friday, April 5, 2024.
Gov. Wes Moore and President Joe Biden walk out for a press conference about the Key Bridge collapse at the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Headquarters in Dundalk on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore previously said that the Port of Baltimore handled 52.3 million tons of international cargo worth more than $80 billion.

Everett Allen, a longshoremen checker, said the progress is starting to show for the thousands whose livelihoods depend on the port.

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“That’s where our bread and butter comes in through the ships that come through the channel,” Allen said.

How did we get here?

Eleven weeks ago, on March 26, the 984-foot Singaporean vessel Dali lost power after leaving the port and crashed into the bridge, killing six construction workers who were doing road work.

The Dali, with crew members aboard, was stranded because a massive portion of the bridge covered the bow of the ship.

Unified Command last month used explosives to break off large portions of the bridge and free the vessel.

A boat passes by the Dali, which is now docked at the Port of Baltimore, on May 24, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

The controlled detonation sent the truss into the Patapsco River in pieces. Officials shared an animation of the process.

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Enough of the Key Bridge debris was demolished from the Dali for it to be refloated a week after the controlled detonation.

The ship returned to the Port of Baltimore two hours after it departed the collapse site. The ship was escorted by several tugboats, traveling at around 1 mph, back to the port where it has remained.

The Unified Command shared a timelapse of the entire removal of the Dali.

Since May 20, deep-draft vessels have been traveling to and from the Port of Baltimore using a 400-foot wide channel, the largest of four temporary channels the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was able to create.

A piece of the Key Bridge is seen with the Baltimore skyline in the background on May 24, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Virtual meeting on rebuilt Key Bridge

The Maryland Department of Transportation Authority will host a virtual meeting to talk about an update on plans to revitalize and reimagine the Key Bridge on Tuesday, June 11, from 6 to 7 p.m.

WJZ is a media partner of The Baltimore Banner.