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Maryland receives $60 million in initial federal relief funds for Key Bridge

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Federal transportation officials have approved $60 million for Maryland for the first part of Baltimore’s recovery and reconstruction mission for the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge.

That money, from the Department of Transportation’s emergency relief fund, is a down payment on what will be a massive project that could take months or even years to complete and will require legislative spending in Congress.

“We hope that Congress will come to our aid,” Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) told the Washington Post on Thursday. “When a catastrophic event affects infrastructure like this, the federal government needs to be there, it has been in the past, and we hope it will be there for Baltimore for the replacement bridge.”

Maryland transportation officials requested federal emergency relief funds Wednesday, and Gov. Wes Moore (Democrat) earlier declared a state of emergency, making the state eligible for quick access to hundreds of million dollars in aid.

Federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, will cover the full costs of clearing shipping lanes in the Patapsco River to reopen Baltimore’s vital port, said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md. ) at the Post.

“It’s obviously a very, very large commitment, and they will cover all of those costs,” Van Hollen said.

But Maryland taxpayers may still have to bear some of the costs, based on the structure of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s emergency relief fund. Maryland’s congressional delegation plans to introduce legislation to increase federal funds to close any gaps, but it would need to pass both houses of Congress. It’s not yet clear what the total cost might be, or how much the relief fund might leave the state.

President Biden said earlier this week that the federal government should pay the full amount needed to restore the waterway and build a new bridge.

“When it comes to using these funds for the design and ultimately construction of a new bridge, there is cost sharing where the federal government takes on the lion’s share of the costs, but not all of them,” Van Hollen said. “And that’s where Senator Cardin and I plan to introduce legislation to ensure that the federal government is able to cover the full costs going forward.”

Cardin told the Post that he had received messages of support from his Republican colleagues in Congress, giving him hope that legislation to support Baltimore would not face political obstacles.

Money from the federal Department of Transportation’s emergency relief fund will cover Maryland’s costs of diverting traffic from the collapsed portion of Interstate 695, the main highway that used the Key Bridge, and for the design and reconstruction of a new structure, Van Hollen said.

Under the relief program, the federal government pays 90 percent of the repairs, while the state is responsible for the remaining 10 percent. But federal agencies will reimburse 100 percent of repair work done within 270 days of a disaster to restore essential transportation, minimize damage and protect remaining facilities.

Such a large expense for the bridge crisis could harm the long-term viability of the emergency relief fund, Van Hollen added. Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 provided $100 million per year for the program.

“The emergency relief fund will need to be increased, not only for the Baltimore Bridge replacement, but also for other projects it supports,” Van Hollen said. “This is something we will work closely with the White House on.”

Policymakers have already begun discussing increasing the height of a new bridge, he said, and incorporating new technologies to make the structure safer. The 47-year-old Key Bridge was built without any “redundancy” that would prevent it from collapsing if a major support were struck, said Jennifer Homendy, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. said.

Van Hollen said he had communicated with Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), whose Environment and Public Works Committee has jurisdiction over federal highways, and with congressional officials about a financing bill. He and Cardin have requested a call to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) but have not yet spoken to him, Van Hollen said.

Congressional spending on Maryland, however, could take months, even if things go smoothly on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers will need a request from the Biden administration and Maryland officials with a firm number to begin crafting an emergency spending or appropriations package. Congress had just passed a full year of funding for the federal government before the bridge disaster, so the new funds would require a separate spending bill.

It’s not yet clear how long it will take federal and state officials to develop plans for a new bridge. And lawmakers are in the middle of a two-week break in their home districts. They are expected to return to Washington to tackle other pressing spending priorities — including U.S. support for Ukraine and Israel — in the second week of April.

A Maryland aid bill could get a boost because of changes in the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), head of the panel’s transportation subcommittee, is the favorite to take over as chairman of the full committee. Cole is well-liked by Democrats for his bipartisan leanings and institutional knowledge.

Maryland also has strong representation on the panel; half of the state House delegation serves on the committee.

Rep. Andy Harris (R) chairs another subcommittee, and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D) is one of the panel’s longest-serving members, wielding significant influence over federal spending. Also serving on the committee are CA Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D), whose district surrounds Baltimore City, and Rep. David Trone (D), whose district covers western Maryland and reaches into Baltimore’s farthest suburbs. credits.

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