In the chaotic hours after a container ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge and knocked it into the Patapsco River, killing six people and triggering a massive response from government agencies, one thing became clear.

Everybody needed space — and they needed it immediately.

Within 24 hours, Tradepoint Atlantic began clearing a 5-acre site along the water that is now humming with activity. Barges float giant segments of gnarled steel to a pier where cranes drop them onto ground paved with slag, the detritus of a century of steelmaking that once took place here.

It was as if Tradepoint Atlantic had been preparing for a moment like this. Located roughly 2 miles beyond the wreckage, the logistics hub on Sparrows Point has the only deep-water port unaffected by the bridge collapse.

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This week, Tradepoint Atlantic allowed journalists to visit their port and see the recovery efforts. As rain fell Friday on a former coal pier, the acrid smell of welders slicing through metal mixed with the stench of fish guts discarded near the shore. A small army of contractors employed by the government were cutting chunks of the bridge into more manageable sizes that will be trucked away and recycled.

Remnants of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sit in a pile at Tradepoint Atlantic.
Remnants of the Francis Scott Key Bridge cleared from the collapse site are piled at Tradepoint Atlantic. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Workers cut up the remanants of the Francis Scott Key Bridge to prepare them to be recycled on April 12, 2024 a few weeks after the collapse. . The pieces are gathered from the water and taken to the port of Tradepoint Atlantic, which sits directly adjacent to where the bridge once stood.
Welders slice through remnants of the Key Bridge to cut the wreckage into more manageable chunks that can be moved and recycled. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

There’s a lot of work ahead.

For nearly five decades, workers on Sparrows Point, once the site of a Bethlehem Steel mill, could look out at the river and see the Key Bridge standing high above the water. Now, they see the wreckage.

Aaron Tomarchio, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Tradepoint Atlantic, said the company immediately tried to figure out how to help the recovery effort the morning of the collapse.

At that moment, authorities were still searching for six construction workers who plunged into the water when the bridge collapsed. Three of their bodies have been recovered, and the other three are now presumed dead.

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The secondary focus was on reopening the channel and reconnecting the Port of Baltimore to the rest of the world. Two small, temporary channels have already been cleared, with plans for a third by the end of the month. The port is expected to fully reopen by the end of May.

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Until then, most of the cargo bound for Baltimore is being diverted to other East Coast ports, but Tradepoint Atlantic is trying to keep as much of that business within the Baltimore region as possible.

At one point, Tomarchio said Tradepoint Atlantic was considering whether cruise ships returning to Baltimore could dock at their site. Those ships were ultimately diverted to Norfolk, Virginia, but many other ships are coming, especially ships with roll-on, roll-off cargo, known as “ro/ro.”

Ro/ro refers to the cars and machinery that workers drive on and off ships. It’s a point of pride for the Port of Baltimore, which handles more cars than any other port in America — about 70,000 a month.

The Swan Ace transported hundreds of cars to Tradepoint Atlantic. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Several car manufactors like Mazda and Mitzubishi (pictured here) have been redirected to the port of Tradepoint Atlantic. They normally would be recieved at Seagrit Marine Terminal or Dundalk Marine Terminal. White vans of Longshoremen are taken aboard the vessel and they drive the cars off of it in what is called roll-on, roll-off. Inside they inspect the vehicles, add manuals and update software if needed.
Cargo from several car manufacturers, including Mitsubishi, has been redirected to Tradepoint Atlantic. The cars would normally be received at Seagirt Marine Terminal or Dundalk Marine Terminal. Longshoremen are taken aboard the vessel in vans and drive the cars off the ship. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Before they drive cars off the ship, longshoremen inspect the vehicles, add manuals and update software if needed. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Since the bridge collapse, Tomarchio said, Tradepoint Atlantic doubled its capacity to handle about 20,000 cars a month. That includes paving a 47-acre site to park all those cars.

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On Friday, more than 100 longshoremen were unloading thousands of Mitsubishi cars at Tradepoint Atlantic. The ship was originally bound for another dock within the Port of Baltimore, Tomarchio said. The cars driven off that ship will still be processed at another other location within the Port of Baltimore, meaning other port employees will continue working.

“This was something that we never would have been able to imagine,” Tomarchio said of the bridge collapse. “We just jump in, analyze the situation, understand the assets we have and put those assets to work. Our teams have been working around the clock.”

Giacomo "Jack" Bologna covers business and development at The Baltimore Banner.

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