Francis Scott Key Bridge (Baltimore)

Francis Scott Key Bridge
View from Fort Armistead Park in 2015
Coordinates39°13′1″N 76°31′42″W / 39.21694°N 76.52833°W / 39.21694; -76.52833
Carried4 lanes of
I-695 Toll
CrossedPatapsco River
LocaleBaltimore metropolitan area, Maryland, U.S.
Maintained byMaryland Transportation Authority
ID number300000BCZ472010
DesignSteel arch-shaped continuous through truss bridge
Total length8,636 feet (2,632.3 m; 1.6 mi)
Longest span1,200 feet (366 m)
Clearance below185 feet (56 m)
DesignerJ. E. Greiner Company
Construction start1972; 52 years ago (1972)
OpenedMarch 23, 1977; 47 years ago (1977-03-23)
CollapsedMarch 26, 2024; 18 days ago (2024-03-26)
The Francis Scott Key Bridge under construction in 1976
Sign for the Key Bridge used on approach roads

The Francis Scott Key Bridge (informally, Key Bridge or Beltway Bridge) was a steel arch continuous through truss bridge that spanned the lower Patapsco River and outer Baltimore Harbor/Port in Maryland, United States. Opened on March 23, 1977, it carried the Baltimore Beltway (Interstate 695 or I-695) between Dundalk in Baltimore County and Hawkins Point, an isolated southern neighborhood of Baltimore, while briefly passing through Anne Arundel County. The main spans and part of the northeastern approach of the bridge collapsed on March 26, 2024, after the container ship MV Dali struck one of its piers.

Initially named the Outer Harbor Crossing, the bridge was renamed in 1976 for poet Francis Scott Key (1779–1843), the author of the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner", the American national anthem. At 8,636 feet (2,632 m), it was the second-longest bridge in the Baltimore metropolitan area, after the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Its main span of 1,200 feet (366 m) was the third-longest of any continuous truss in the world.

Operated by the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA), the bridge was the outermost of three toll crossings of Baltimore's harbor, along with the Baltimore Harbor and Fort McHenry tunnels. The bridge carried an estimated 11.5 million vehicles annually, including many trucks carrying hazardous materials that are prohibited in the tunnels. The construction of the bridge and its approaches completed the two-decade effort to build I-695, although the bridge roadway was officially a state road: the unsigned Maryland Route 695.



By the early 1960s, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel (Interstate 895), the first crossing of Baltimore's Harbor, had reached its traffic capacity. The Maryland State Roads Commission concluded there was a need for a second harbor crossing. They began planning another single-tube tunnel under the Patapsco River, downstream and to the southeast, between Hawkins Point and Sollers Point in the outer harbor. In October 1968, this Outer Harbor Tunnel project received financing through a $220 million bond issue (equivalent to $1.9 billion in 2023) that also funded the twinning of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. But when the bids to build the tunnel were opened in July 1970, they were substantially higher than expected. So officials drafted alternative proposals, including a four-lane bridge, which had the advantage of providing a route across Baltimore Harbor for vehicles carrying hazardous materials barred from tunnels.

In April 1971, the Maryland General Assembly approved the bridge project. The United States Coast Guard issued a bridge permit in June 1972, replacing the earlier approval of the tunnel by the Army Corps of Engineers. Baltimore engineering firm J. E. Greiner Company was selected as the primary design consultant, with the side approaches being handled by New York City's Singstad, Kehart, November & Hurka in joint venture with Baltimore Transportation Associates, Inc. The construction was to be performed by the John F. Beasley Construction Company with material fabricated by the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Co.

Construction of the Outer Harbor Bridge began in 1972, several years behind schedule and $33 million over budget.

In 1976, as construction went on, the bridge was named for Francis Scott Key, the author of "The Defence of Fort M'Henry", the poem upon which "The Star-Spangled Banner" is based. Key was inspired to write the poem after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814. Key had been aboard an American truce ship with the British Royal Navy fleet in Baltimore Harbor near Sollers Point; the approximate location is within 100 yards (91 m) of the bridge and marked by a buoy in the colors of the U.S. flag.


The Key Bridge opened to traffic on March 23, 1977. Including its connecting approaches, the bridge project was 1.6 miles (2.57 km) in length with 8.7 miles (14.00 km) of approach road. In 1978, the bridge received an Award of Merit from the American Institute of Steel Construction in the Long Span category. A few months after the 1980 Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapse, a cargo ship collided with the Key Bridge, but the bridge was relatively undamaged.

The bridge opened with four lanes, but its approaches were two lanes to reduce costs. The south approach was widened in 1983. A project for the north approach was completed in 1999 after several years of delays.


Ten hours after the collapse, remnants of the bridge's superstructure and roadway rest on Dali's bow

On March 26, 2024, at 01:28 EDT (05:28 UTC), the main spans of the bridge collapsed after the Singapore-registered container ship MV Dali lost power and collided with the southwest supporting pier of the main truss section. The NTSB noted that the Key Bridge was built before the introduction of redundant support structures, which are widely used in modern bridges and would have prevented such a collapse.

Members of an eight-person maintenance crew working on the bridge are believed to be the only people injured or killed in the disaster. Three bodies were recovered, three more people are missing and presumed dead, and two people were rescued from the river: one uninjured, the other transported to a hospital in critical condition. A mayday distress call sent by the ship's crew just before the collision led police and bridge workers to halt traffic onto the bridge, likely saving many lives.

The collapse, which blocked the Patapsco shipping channel, immediately halted almost all passenger and cargo shipping to the Port of Baltimore. Maryland Governor Wes Moore declared a state of emergency. Economic losses were initially estimated at $15 million per day. Insurers are expected to incur multi-billion dollar losses for the damages, business disruptions, and liability claims.

The collapsed part of the bridge includes the three spans under the metal truss, and three more to the northeast (right of image in Dundalk, Maryland). The left side of the image is Hawkins Point, Baltimore.


Hours after the collapse, President Joe Biden said that "the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing the Francis Scott Key Bridge". He also said that all resources were being made available to help the response. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced that their Baltimore District "has activated its Emergency Operations Center. More than 1,100 engineering, construction, contracting and operations specialists are to provide support to local, state and federal agencies." Biden visited the bridge site on April 5.

Construction of a new bridge has been estimated to cost at least $400 million and take up to seven years.


In July 2013, the toll rate for cars was $4.00. The bridge was part of the E-ZPass system and its toll plaza included two dedicated E-ZPass lanes in each direction. Cashless tolling began on the bridge on October 30, 2019. With this system, customers without E-ZPass would pay using video tolling.

This page was last updated at 2024-04-15 03:26 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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