Following the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, temporary economic losses from closure of the Port of Baltimore could prove to be severe. The Baltimore region has been left reeling after a container ship struck the bridge, causing it to collapse and leading to the deaths of six construction workers. The bridge disaster severed water access to most terminals within the Port of Baltimore indefinitely.

Reasons for optimism exist, however, regarding the port’s recovery and a minimal long-term loss for the Baltimore region.

Researchers and other specialists from Johns Hopkins University and organizations including IMPLAN do not anticipate the bridge collapse to have a strong negative impact on the national economy beyond supply bottlenecks, which may result in delays and higher shipping costs for certain commodities (coal, sugar and gypsum) and automobiles. The Port of Baltimore is the top importer for automobiles in the U.S., so East Coast dealerships could be affected by delays in shipments of vehicles from manufacturers including Mazda and Mercedes-Benz.

These delays stand to be relatively minor, however, compared to the supply chain disruptions the nation experienced during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic.

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This map details the bridge and port terminals at the Port of Baltimore.
This map details the bridge and port terminals at the Port of Baltimore. (

The immediate impact on the local area, on the other hand, could be substantial: The temporary closure could directly affect the income of more than 15,000 workers at the port along with 140,000 workers associated with the port’s operations. IMPLAN estimates that a one-month closure of the port might cost Maryland $28 million in lost tax revenue. The Maryland General Assembly fast-tracked the Protecting Opportunities and Regional Trade (PORT) Act to provide emergency relief to port workers and small-business owners.

The importance of the port goes back to Baltimore’s beginnings and has continued throughout its history. Baltimore was founded on the vitality of its port, and the city has relied on it as an economic engine through good times and bad. For instance, the bridge’s crest offered a view to the east of shuttered Bethlehem Steel, which was once the largest steel producer in the world. And straining a bit to look to the northwest offers a glimpse of the site of the former Broening Highway General Motors plant, which had churned out millions of Buicks, Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles before closing its doors in 2005.

If manufacturing was Baltimore’s past, then logistics is surely its future.

From 1998 to 2022, the port’s total container tons increased by 92% , automotive cargo increased by 196%and roll-on/roll-off cargo increased by 113%. The General Motors site now houses an Amazon fulfillment center and is adjacent to the Seagirt Marine Terminal (opened in 1990), which handles the majority of the Port of Baltimore’s container volume.

An expansion of the Howard Street Tunnel will bring double-stack rail to the terminal by 2025. The Bethlehem Steel site now contains several fulfillment centers and warehouses, as well as the Port of Baltimore’s newest terminal, Tradepoint Atlantic, a major shipping hub. This terminal is the only one open within the port and is set to expand operations for containers in the next five years.

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While other ports on the East Coast — such as Norfolk, Newark, Savannah and Brunswick — will temporarily absorb some of the flow of goods due to Baltimore’s closure, there is little reason to believe that the closure will permanently impact the port’s long-term activity.

A recent study on the impact of natural disasters on port closures suggests that substitution to other ports is often not viable due to infrastructure and contractual constraints. Johns Hopkins University Professor Tinglong Dai — whose research interests include global supply chains — doesn’t see “any lasting, major impact on the economy, whether it’s local, regional, or national.” He also noted, in a post on the Johns Hopkins Hub news center, “The Port of Baltimore and its surrounding economy is in a strong position to win the future of the global supply chain transition.”

Much like the poem that became our national anthem written by the bridge’s namesake, iconic Baltimore landmarks tend to inspire its residents to triumph amid challenging circumstances. The bridge may be gone for now, but the Port of Baltimore will rise again in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Adam Scavette is a regional economist at the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

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