After a devastating bridge collapse in Baltimore, many people have begun to question the safety of the bridges that they travel on every day. 

A devastating bridge collapse happened early Tuesday morning, causing several cars to land in the underlying water and as a result, a major emergency rescue mission is underway. 

The bridge that collapsed is the Francis Scott Key Bridge, located in Baltimore, Maryland. It is one of the largest bridges in the United States, and originally it opened in March 1977. When you include the connecting approaches to the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the bridge project is about 10.9 miles in length, making it a rather long bridge. 

Early Tuesday morning, a cargo ship called the DALI collided with the bridge, causing a catastrophic collapse almost immediately. Cars were crossing the bridge as the partial collapse occurred, leaving cars and motorists in the water awaiting rescue. 

It sounds bad, but the video of the collapse leaves you speechless.

Rescue efforts were immediately underway, but both lanes continue to remain closed in both directions for the incident. 

The bridge was created in 1977, which doesn’t seem so long ago, but the length of the bridge can cut time to the city by about 2 hours on some days, making it a major bridge in Baltimore. 

It’s hard to see the collapse and not think about the bridges we have to drive over on most days, sometimes in the early morning. 

Being a Western New Yorker, one of the first bridges that came to mind is the South Grand Island Bridge. There are two of them, with each South Grand Island Bridge carrying one direction of the 190. 

The initial construction of the southbound bridge was completed in the early year of 1935, whereas the twin northbound bridge was completed in 1963 – both of which were completely constructed before the Francis Scott Key Bridge was created, according to the New York State official thruway website

Another bridge you can’t help but think of is the Buffalo SkyWay, which is also an important piece of infrastructure that is imperative for many people to get into the city in a quick and efficient manner. The Skyway is also older than the Baltimore bridge that collapsed, originally proposed back in 1922 according to Buffalo Rising.  It was finally constructed in 1955, nearly 30 years later. 

The Buffalo Skyway is a controversial road, with many people wanting an alternative, safer street to take into Buffalo. With higher winds and poor weather, it can be tough to navigate your car while on the Skyway. After all, the steel bridge sits about 100 feet over the Buffalo River and while it is only 1.1 miles long, it connects to many other roads in Western New York, including NYS RT 5, the southern neighborhoods of Erie County, the 190, and many more. 

Many people were quick to critique the infrastructure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, MD following the cargo ship collision, but is the infrastructure a factor in bridge collapses? And could a devastating collapse happen in Western New York for one of our most important bridges: the Grand Island Bridges or the Skyway, to name a few? 

One thing to note is that the bridge in Baltimore was brought down by a colliding cargo ship, and any similar collision would most likely cause damage to other bridges; however, let’s talk about the infrastructure

The Skyway has been talked about being replaced for quite some time due to concerns of the bridge safety. When it originally opened in 1955, according to the official website for the Buffalo Skyway, the high-level bridge “originally provided access for workers and goods movement to and through the congested industrial waterfront, which included the Bethlehem Steel and Republic Steel plants.”

Those plants closed in the 1980s, and while many commuters from the Southtowns use the Skyway, it is worth noting that the land use in the area has changed over the last several decades. While it is unlikely to have a ship collision to the Skyway considering its placement, some residents will agree that the road is an obstacle to navigate, and if the community wants to maximize the use of the waterfront, they may need to consider renovating the bridge or completely replacing it out of safety reasons. 

The Grand Island Bridges had recently undergone a revitalization project to replace the Beaver Island Parkway Bridge, which is somewhat consoling to hear that there has been recent maintenance to the long-standing bridge. After all, the first bridge of the two is about 89 years old, and it carries at least 13,000 vehicles per day, according to the WNY Papers

Local Whistleblowers Express Concern Over Bridge

Back in 2015, the South Grand Island Bridge a whistleblower spoke out. His name was James Strzalkowski, according to the WNY Papers, and he caused many people to take notice of the deteriorating condition of the bridge. Strzalkowski studied rusting and recognized the early signs of it on the bridge, calling for an earlier replacement project to take place for the bridge to continue standing. 

Thankfully, the Thruway prioritized the repairs after hearing the concerns and updated the bridge rather recently. You can see more about the whistleblower here

Are The Bridges Safe In Western New York?

As long as New York State and our local officials continue to monitor the infrastructure of these older bridges, it looks like we should be ok. 

The only thing unpredictable is the uncontrollables. Sure, you can renovate and make repairs as much as possible, but you can’t plan on a ship colliding with the bridge. That investigation of the situation in Baltimore is currently underway. 

The New York Times reported that the Francis Scott Key Bridge that collapsed in Baltimore on Tuesday had undergone several renovations over the years, including a $14 million project in 1986. It is a heavily traveled bridge though, with over 12 million cars making the trek across the bridge in 2023. 

READ MORE: Baltimore Key Bridge collapses; rescuers search for people in water (Live Updates via Washington Post) 

Did You Know? Scholars believe that the bridge crosses within 100 yards of the site where Francis Scott Key witnessed the attack on Fort McHenry in Sept. 1814, the very battle that inspired Key to write the words to what would become the Star Spangled Banner.

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