USACE announces full restoration of Baltimore's Fort McHenry Federal Channel

BALTIMORE — As part of the Unified Command response to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving today restored the Fort McHenry Federal Channel to its original operational dimensions of 700 feet wide and 50 feet deep for commercial maritime transit through the Port of Baltimore.

Since March 26, 2024, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving worked to clear Key Bridge wreckage and move the M/V Dali from the federal channel. Following the removal of wreckage at the 50-foot mud-line, the Unified Command performed a survey of the federal channel June 10, certifying the riverbed as safe for transit. Surveying and removal of steel at and below the 50-foot mud-line will continue to ensure future dredging operations are not impacted.

The Unified Command safely moved the M/V Dali on May 20 and widened the Limited Access Channel to 400 feet May 21, permitting all pre-collapse, deep-draft commercial vessels to transit through the Port of Baltimore. Now, the fully operational channel enables the flexibility to regain two-way traffic and cancel the additional safety requirements that were implemented because of the reduced channel width.

Unified Command’s ongoing salvage work in the Fort McHenry Federal Channel nears its conclusion, as shown in these aerial photos taken Friday afternoon, June 7, 2024. Courtesy of Maryland State Police Aviation Command, salvors continue pulling massive, mangled chunks of Francis Scott Key Bridge wreckage from the watery depths of the Patapsco River.

“We are proud of the unified efforts that fully reopened the Federal Channel to port operations,” said Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, commanding general of USACE. “The partnerships that endured through this response made this pivotal mission successful.”

Fully restoring the federal channel to its original width and depth involved the removal of about 50,000 tons of bridge wreckage from the Patapsco River. At its highest point, the Unified Command, consisting of six agencies, led the response efforts among about 56 federal, state and local agencies, represented by 1,587 individual responders. Additionally, about 500 specialists from around the world operated a fleet of 44 vessels of various sizes and capabilities, as well as 36 barges, 27 tugboats, 22 floating cranes, 10 excavators, a dredger, a skimmer, and Coast Guard cutter. Subject matter experts from all over the U.S. also provided essential technical knowledge to the Unified Command.

“We’ve cleared the Fort McHenry Federal Channel for safe transit. USACE will maintain this critical waterway as we have for the last 107 years,” said Col. Estee Pinchasin, Baltimore District commander. “I cannot overstate how proud I am of our team. It was incredible seeing so many people from different parts of our government, from around our country and all over the world, come together in the Unified Command and accomplish so much in this amount of time.”

Armed with oxyacetylene torches and a 75-ton claw excavator Wednesday afternoon, June 5, 2024, at Sparrows Point, MD, Unified Command salvage workers quickly carve up “Segment 4C” – a 420-ton section of steel truss removed from the Fort McHenry Federal Channel the day prior. Once cut into smaller pieces, crews load the Francis Scott Key Bridge steel onto tractor trailers for offsite recycling.

The wreckage will continue to be transported to Sparrows Point for follow-on processing. Follow-on work in the channel from this point on is part of routine maintenance, ensuring future dredging operations will not be impacted.

“Although the overarching goal to restore full operational capacity to the federal channel was successful, each day, we thought of those who lost their lives, their families, and the workers impacted by this tragic event,” said Pinchasin. “Not a day went by that we didn’t think about all of them, and that kept us going.”

Other significant Unified Command milestones:

  • March 30: Removal of bridge wreckage commences
  • April 2: The first of three Temporary Alternate Channels opens, allowing shallow-draft vessels to transit through the Port of Baltimore
  • April 7: The removal of containers from M/V Dali began
  • April 25: The opening of Limited Access Channel to a width of 300 feet and depth of 35 feet
  • May 9: Recreational vessels permitted to transit through Key Bridge Response Safety Zone
  • May 13: Controlled demolition of Section 4, which had pinned the M/V Dali under a 10-million-pound segment of Key Bridge wreckage
  • May 20: M/V Dali refloated and moved, Federal Channel cleared to a width of 400 feet and depth of 50 feet
  • June 4: The last major piece of steel truss was removed from Federal Channel

The Unified Command achieved the operational priorities that included ensuring the safety of the public and first responders, accountability of missing persons, protecting the environment, incident stabilization, safely restoring transportation infrastructure and commerce, and supporting the investigation.

The Key Bridge Response 2024 Unified Command included the following:

  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Maryland Department of the Environment
  • Maryland Transportation Authority
  • Witt O’Brien’s representing Synergy Marine
  • Maryland State Police

Additional Information

Baltimore District delivers vital engineering solutions in collaboration with its partners to serve and strengthen the nation, energize the economy and reduce disaster risks. Headquartered near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Baltimore District provides design, engineering, construction, environmental and real estate expertise to various important projects and customers. This support spans five states, the District of Columbia, overseas and the Susquehanna, Potomac and Chesapeake Bay watersheds. These civil and military missions and diverse engineering services support communities and warfighters while addressing the ever-growing list of emerging national security requirements and ultimately protecting the nation.

Cynthia Mitchell