A temporary channel northeast of the main shipping lanes on the Patapsco River has been established and will provide limited access to the Port of Baltimore for commercially essential vessels, the Unified Command, which is overseeing the salvage work on the river, said Friday night.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. David O’Connell, captain of the port and federal on-scene coordinator for the Key Bridge response, said the Fort Carroll temporary alternate channel is expected to help restore roughly 15% of the pre-collapse commercial activity to the port.

The channel has a depth of 20 feet, a 300-foot horizontal clearance, and a vertical clearance of 135 feet. It is designed to facilitate additional commercially essential vessel traffic through the port.

The third temporary channel is marked with government-lighted aids to navigation and will be limited to transit at the discretion of the captain of the Port of Baltimore.

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“This additional channel increases the types of vessels able to transit inbound and outbound the port of Baltimore,” O’Connell said.

News of the temporary channel comes nearly four weeks after the collapse of the Key Bridge. Workers have removed about 1,300 tons of steel from the Patapsco River as salvage crews move closer to clearing part of the shipping channel by the self-imposed deadline of the end of April.

The amount represents roughly 10-15% of the total weight of the bridge, which fell into the water on March 26, when the cargo ship Dali went adrift and struck one of the footings. Since then, three shallow, temporary channels have been opened.

The Unified Command, which is overseeing the cleanup of the Key Bridge collapse, announced Friday, April 19, 2024, that the Fort Carroll temporary alternate channel on the northeast side of the main channel will open to give limited access for commercially essential vessels.

Gov. Wes Moore delivered an update on the progress made so far, emphasizing the safety record of the operation.

“We have now successfully removed around 1,300 tons of steel from the water,” he said during a press conference Friday afternoon. “The thing I also want to say about that is this: 1,300 tons of steel, countless operations, and still not a single injury.”

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who are overseeing the operation to restore vessel traffic into and out of the Port of Baltimore, said earlier this month that it intends to create a 35-foot lane on the east side of the shipping channel within the next 11 days, allowing 75-80% of normal vessel traffic to resume.

Col. Estee Pinchasin, commander of the USACE’s Baltimore district, said the full channel will be open by the end of May with a depth of 50 feet.

“The first thing that we’re focused on is opening the temporary limited access channel,” Pinchasin said at the press conference. “And right now, we’re removing the wreckage that’s wrapped around the pillar that’s across from the Dali. It’s really important to get relief to the port first.”

Pinchasin added that there’s also “a tremendous amount of planning and engineering that’s taking place to work on how we’re going to remove that massive span that’s on top, laying across, and on the side of the Dali.”

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The weight of the span on top of the Dali is estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000 tons.

“The controlled demolition of that span is being planned right now,” Pinchasin said, “and it’s going to require significant cutting because it’s such a large, large span. But once that wreckage is removed, we’re going to go through a refloating sequence that’s very intricate. That’s all in planning right now as well.”

As of Friday morning, crews had removed more than 120 containers off the Dali, Moore confirmed. The goal is to remove at least 140.

“Removing the containers is going to help us to build a staging area to access the pieces of the bridge that are on top of the Dali,” Moore said.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the date of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and the spelling of Col. Estee Pinchasin’s surname.

Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for the Express Desk and has formerly reported for the Associated Press, Newsday, and the Seattle Times.

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