Italian engineers propose new design for collapsed Baltimore bridge

An aerial view of the concept design for a new Baltimore bridge that Webuild is pitching to replace the Francis Scott Key Bridge. (Courtesy Webuild Group)
The new Baltimore bridge Webuild is proposing would add extra traffic lanes. (Courtesy Webuild Group)
Rendering of proposed Key Bridge design
The Webuild Group says its cable-stayed bridge aims to improve several functional aspects, including safety, adaptability and sustainability. (Courtesy Webuild Group)
The Baltimore bridge proposed by Webuild would also be enlarged to 2,300 feet, with the main pylons in much shallower water and away from the navigation channel. (Courtesy Webuild Group)
Rendering of proposed Key Bridge design

An Italian company that helped rebuild a bridge that collapsed in Genoa, Italy, in 2018 said it is ready to do the same in Baltimore.

The Webuild Group sent a preliminary design and plans to Maryland officials for the reconstruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Friday. The company said its cable-stayed bridge aims to improve several functional aspects, including safety, adaptability and sustainability.

Officials said it would be built for the future of the maritime industry, allowing for even larger ships to enter the Port of Baltimore, but the bridge’s design will be much safer.

The Port of Baltimore has been operating at a limited capacity since the early morning hours of March 26, when a cargo ship, the Dali, hit the support pylon of the Key Bridge and took down the 47-year-old structure spanning over the Patapsco River. The bridge collapsed in a manner of a few minutes, killing six maintenance workers who were working on the bridge and doing repair work.

Under this plan, ships up to 213 feet tall would be able to pass under the bridge, up from the clearance of the now destroyed Key Bridge, which was 185 feet. The bridge span will also be enlarged to 2,300 feet, with the main pylons in much shallower water and away from the navigation channel.

The preliminary proposal was drafted in collaboration with architect Carlo Ratti, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux.

“Opting for a cable-stayed solution enables the piles to be positioned at a safe distance, well away from the navigation channel used by large vessels and hence preventing the risk of a tragedy such as the one of March 26 happening again,” MIT Professor Carlo Ratti said.

“This approach also provides a light-weight solution to reconnect two sides of Baltimore, both socially and economically — what American infrastructure should be striving to do in the 21st century.”

WeBuild said it has offered to the relevant authorities a proposal for the design and planning of reconstruction of the bridge, drawn up as a sign of solidarity and friendship with the United States.

“We at Webuild and our US subsidiary Lane are ready to make ourselves available, to quickly restore this strategic bridge for local mobility,” Webuild CEO Pietro Salini said in a letter sent with the project to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, the Governor of Maryland, the Director of the Maryland Port Administration and the U.S. Ambassador to Italy.

“We will take part, on May 7, in the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA)’s Virtual Industry Forum for the reconstruction of the bridge, and we are ready to help in any way we can at this stage in the spirit of pro bono service,” Salini said.

Webuild’s proposal also calls for a wider carriageway, with the increase of one lane in each direction and the widening of emergency lanes, in response to the increased traffic levels on the bridge.

It would also utilize new smart features and safer traffic management, along with the use of predictive maintenance techniques. Webuild said it also plans to propose using more sustainable materials to preserve the ecosystem of the Patapsco River.

Maryland officials plan to put out formal invites to engineering firms this month, estimating the project could cost as much as $1.9 billion and take about four years, hopefully having the new bridge fully constructed by the fall of 2028.

Port officials said they intend to have the bridge debris and the wrecked ship out of the shipping channel by late May.

Webuild said it is has had success replacing collapsed bridges in a short period of time, having previously built a replacement for the Ponte Morandi bridge in Genoa. Its San Giorgio Bridge was designed by noted Italian architect Renzo Piano and opened in 2020, after a construction period of a little over a year.

Webuild said it is ready to move on this project quickly.

“The design concept of the bridge that we have been working on incessantly during this last month will represent a key contribution towards the design and reconstruction or new construction of the bridge,” Salini said.

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Dan Ronan

Weekend anchor Dan Ronan is an award-winning journalist with a specialty in business and finance reporting.

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