The Francis Scott Key Bridge is not the only structure being replaced in the region that has thrown truck traffic into a tailspin.

The Colgate Creek Bridge, located near the Port of Baltimore, is taking years to rebuild due to delayed construction. Those delays are creating a glaring bottleneck for trucks as they try to access the Port of Baltimore in the wake of the nearby Key Bridge’s collapse.

The four-lane structure that connects the Dundalk and Seagirt port terminals has historically been one of the most heavily trafficked Baltimore City truck routes, according to State Highway Administration data. But it serves more than just trucks — cars and some MTA buses use that section of Broening Highway to get to Dundalk.

Delays in replacing the smaller bridge — coupled with weight restrictions on what is now considered a substandard structure — have added more complications for truckers.

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With use of the Colgate Creek Bridge limited, many trucks are forced to go around it to get to Interstate 95 and other highways. And road closures near the northern terminus of the former Key Bridge have made it more difficult to access Interstate 695, the Baltimore Beltway. That means many of the largest trucks leaving the port have been forced onto the small roads of neighborhoods that surround the port, such as Curtis Bay to the west and Broening Manor or parts of Dundalk to the east.

And relief is not coming soon.

In an email, a Baltimore Department of Transportation spokesperson wrote that officials now don’t expect the work to be done until December 2025. They did not respond to questions from The Baltimore Banner regarding permits, contract modifications and factors that contributed to the delays.

Scrambled routes

When a massive cargo ship plowed into the Key Bridge on March 26, causing it to topple into the Patapsco River, it scrambled the routes of some 30,000 vehicles a day, including hazmat trucks that are prohibited from using the Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels.

The Colgate Creek Bridge connects the Seagirt and Dundalk marine terminals in Southeast Baltimore — it was labeled structurally deficient a long time ago. After years of delayed planning and construction, part of the bridge remains closed to traffic, leaving only one usable lane in either direction from Broening Highway.

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A crane is lifting debris into a dump truck underneath a road sign that indicates directions toward the Port of Baltimore.
A construction crew works to rebuild part of the Colgate Creek Bridge just outside the Port of Baltimore on May 7, 2024. (Daniel Zawodny)

Transportation officials familiar with the project said construction delays have long posed an inconvenience to truckers and other motorists. But since the Key Bridge’s collapse, limits on use of the Colgate Creek Bridge have created a major bottleneck for trucks trying to access the port.

The problem mainly comes down to weight restrictions, said Louis Campion, president and CEO of the Maryland Motor Truck Association. Ongoing construction has cut the bridge’s acceptable load capacity to 80,000 pounds over five axles. That’s not enough for many trucks that use the port — for nearly four decades, five-axle vehicles carrying container cargo across the state have been permitted to be as heavy as 90,000 pounds.

“Because of the [Colgate Creek] bridge, they have essentially had to take away the ability to use the containerized cargo permit,” Campion said.

In the wake of the Key Bridge collapse, the Maryland Department of Transportation temporarily made available, at no cost, specialized cargo hauling permits allowing 100,000 pounds over six axles.

But those trucks typically are used sparingly and have pre-approved specific routes — and the Colgate Creek Bridge is not designated for them, said Campion.

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The city DOT won a $10 million federal grant for the bridge replacement back in 2015, according to The Baltimore Sun. But a contract for the project wasn’t finalized until August 2018, according to Board of Estimates documents.

The original $17.7 million contract with Pennsylvania-based Allan Myers saw two major modifications. The second one changed the approach of the work: Originally, crews were to construct a causeway — a road rising out of the water underneath the bridge — from which they could stage the job. At a March 2022 Board of Estimates meeting, then-city DOT Director Steve Sharkey said that the cost and environmental impacts of building the causeway system were far greater than originally projected. The contract was modified to instead build a trestle system connected to the side of the bridge from which the construction crew could stage.

The board ultimately voted unanimously to approve the extra work order on the table — the fourth to be added to the project. Comptroller Bill Henry questioned at what point the contract should have been put back out to bid, given that new work orders for a supposedly less-expensive construction method were pushing the project nearly $6 million over the original budget.

A fifth extra work order for nearly $1 million was approved in February.

Concrete jersey barriers separate part of a roadway from a construction zone; a crane is removing debris from one section of the site. A green road sign that indicates where to turn for the Port of Baltimore is in the background.
A crane removes debris from one end of the Colgate Creek Bridge outside the Port of Baltimore on May 7, 2024. (Daniel Zawodny)

The project was well over budget before it even broke ground, the Baltimore Brew reported in 2021 — a sign erected next to the bridge photographed by the news site said construction would be finished by December 2020.

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“What level of confidence does DOT have in the new timeline?” Henry asked at the March 2022 BOE meeting.

Corren Johnson, the city DOT’s deputy director at the time, and now head of the agency, said officials did not anticipate any other major delays and that it would be completed by mid-May 2024.

Earlier this week, a crane worked to remove debris from the western edge of the construction site; progress on the bridge was apparent, but the work was far from complete.

The work is now expected to take about another 18 months, according to city officials.

Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for the The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America. He is a Baltimore area native and graduated with his master's degree in journalism from American University in 2021. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and previously covered immigration issues.

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