The Maryland Transportation Authority released its request for proposals Friday afternoon for the rebuild of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, a megaproject it estimates will cost nearly $2 billion and take until 2028 to complete.

The state agency, which owns and oversees Maryland toll facilities, is seeking a single company to partner with on a progressive design-build process. That means the selected company will work collaboratively with the state on the design and then have exclusive bidding rights for the construction phase of the project.

The request for bids marks the next step to, “make the Baltimore area whole again,” said state Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld, just over two months since Marylanders woke up to images of the collapsed bridge all over national news outlets.

The Dali, a nearly 1,000-foot container ship bound for Sri Lanka, struck a main support pier of the Key Bridge in the early morning hours of March 26. Six construction workers repairing potholes on the bridge deck died after falling with thousands of tons of steel into the Patapsco River.

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The National Transportation Safety Board, which released its preliminary report of the disaster May 14, and the FBI are continuing to investigate why and how the ship veered outside the main shipping channel.

“This is a big day,” Wiedefeld said in an interview Friday afternoon, marking a step forward in the fourth and final span of recovery laid out by Gov. Wes Moore — rebuilding the bridge. To get to where the state is now in eight weeks required, “a lot of effort by a lot of people to do that,” Wiedefeld said.

Earlier this month, officials said they plan to pursue a more modern cable-stayed bridge to replace the continuous steel truss structure that served as one of three links across the Patapsco River in Southeast Baltimore for 47 years. Wiedefeld said Friday that the agency wasn’t tied to that idea and would let contractors pitch other designs, but that cable-stayed bridges are now typically the standard for bridges of this scale.

A remaining support column for the Key Bridge is seen in the foreground as the Dali, now docked at the Port of Baltimore, is seen in the background on May 24, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

“That distance of the main span over the navigable channel is going to be the challenge and that’s why we need a team that is highly qualified and can demonstrate past performance,” said MDTA chief engineer James Harkness.

The main span of the former Key Bridge over the principal shipping channel was 1,200 feet long and towered roughly 185 feet over the water’s surface, depending on the tide. The bridge was considered in fair working condition before it was struck.

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Wiedefeld and Harkness could not speculate on how many jobs the project will create, but said it will need both typical highway construction work as well as highly specialized labor for the main bridge span.

Like the similarly designed Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the Key Bridge had been labeled ‘fracture critical,’ meaning sections of a bridge have low redundancy, depending on each other to stay upright — if one section fails, it’s more likely the whole structure will comes down.

The cleanup of the wreckage and the rebuild process are part of the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program, which traditionally pays for 90% of included projects. In the immediate aftermath of the bridge collapse, President Joe Biden pledged that the federal government would foot the bill for the entire cost of the bridge. Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen have been active in Washington, D.C., to drum up bipartisan support for legislation that would address that funding gap.

Each with a gargantuan two-million-pound lift capacity, the Chesapeake 1000 and the HSWC500-1000 hydraulic claw are lending a big hand to Unified Command’s mission of removing what remains of the estimated 50,000 tons of Francis Scott Key Bridge wreckage.
With a gargantuan two-million-pound lift capacity each, the Chesapeake 1000 and the HSWC500-1000 hydraulic claws are lending a big hand to Unified Command’s mission of removing what remains of the estimated 50,000 tons of Francis Scott Key Bridge wreckage. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Specialist Dylan Burnell)

Wiedefeld said Friday that he met with the White House earlier this week about the funding commitments and that the state is continuing to work with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

More than 1,700 contracting firms and consultants attended a May 7 industry forum regarding the bridge rebuild, according to the MDTA press release.

The agency will accept proposals until June 24 and plans to select the contractor before the end of the summer.