On March 26, at approximately 1:30 a.m., a cargo ship leaving the Port of Baltimore struck the I-695 Francis Scott Key Bridge leading to its collapse.

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The Francis Scott Key Bridge opened to traffic on March 23, 1977. Photos by Nick Huber

Like most people, we were shocked and saddened by the news, not only because Baltimore had lost a great landmark, but more importantly, because lives were lost as well.

As the salvage operations are ongoing in order to reopen the port to vessel traffic, we wanted to take a moment to look back on the history of this iconic landmark.

The outer crossing of the Baltimore harbor opened in 1977 as the final link in the I-695 Baltimore Beltway. Including the Francis Scott Key Bridge and connecting roadways, the project was 10.9 miles in length and was the outermost of three toll crossings of Baltimore’s Harbor.

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The view of the bridge collapse from Fort McHenry.

The bridge itself was a steel arch continuous truss-style bridge that extended over the lower Patapsco River and outer Baltimore Harbor. When planning began for a second harbor crossing, another tunnel was initially proposed as the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, which opened in 1957, had reached its traffic capacity. When it appeared that costs would be too high, officials began drafting alternative plans which included a four-lane bridge, which was eventually approved. A bridge presented the best alternative because it allowed for more traffic lanes and carried lower operating and maintenance costs than a tunnel. And while vehicles transporting hazardous chemicals are prohibited in the harbor tunnels, a bridge would provide them with a route across the harbor. Construction began in 1972.

In 1976, while the bridge was still being built, it was named in honor of Francis Scott Key. After witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on September 12, 1814, Key penned the poem “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” which later inspired our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Key had been aboard a ship in Baltimore Harbor near Sollers Point, and it is believed that that location is just 100 yards from where the bridge was eventually built.

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The Key Bridge collapsed on March 26 after it was struck by a cargo ship leaving Baltimore Harbor.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge officially opened to traffic on March 23, 1977, and it collapsed 47 years later on the week that it opened. While the road to recovery will be a long one, we know the city of Baltimore will persevere. We applaud all of the first responders, port workers, salvage operations crews, and all those who are working tirelessly to reopen the port. For updates on the current state of affairs, visit keybridgeresponse2024.com.