With emergency relief funds short, Maryland fights for Key Bridge money


A shortage of Federal Highway Administration emergency relief funds and the fact that it is a toll bridge could play a role in determining who pays what toward the eventual replacement of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

“Currently, the ER program itself is drastically short of the funding necessary for all the eligible projects,” said Senate Environmental Committee ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. 

“As of June 25, the current funding shortfall stands at more than $3.5 billion with a backlog of (projects in) 38 states and territories that stem from more than 130 eligible events.” 

“Currently, the Emergency Relief program itself is drastically short of the funding necessary for all the eligible projects,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Bloomberg News

The bond-financed toll bridge was struck by Singapore-flagged container vessel Dali on March 26. With tolls collected on the bridge, questions arose about who gets the toll revenue once the bridge is replaced and how much the feds should pay for rebuilding it. 

Typically, state projects receive 80% reimbursement, while federal projects can qualify for up to 90% reimbursement. The state would make up the difference. 

Maryland is looking for 100% reimbursement, “because that’s what was done in the past,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. “We need it now, because we are sending contracts to start the construction, we don’t want to delay this. Every month it’s delayed, it’s additional loss to our communities and frustration among drivers.” 

Cardin cited precedent for the feds bearing the total cost from other catastrophes, including hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Fiona as well as the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota. 

The Key Bridge generated $56.8 million in toll revenues for Maryland in 2023, raising questions about use of federal taxpayer money to fully fund the replacement of a toll bridge. 

“Why is it wrong to assume if you’re the American taxpayer, that since you have a dedicated source of revenue there (tolls), that over time, you would not be asked to pay the 10% cost share that Maryland would have to bear?” asked Capito. 

“It would be penalizing the state of Maryland if you required us to use our toll facilities to repay our 10%, so we think that would be totally unfair,” Cardin replied. 

Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., have drafted legislation that would guarantee the federal government any funds recovered through insurance claims. Estimates for the insurance reimbursement are currently $350 million. 

“It’s written into the bill, it’s already current law, but we made it very explicit that the federal government will receive any compensation for damages or insurance proceeds, including interest recovered by a state a political subdivision of a state, or a toll authority for repair, including reconstruction of the bridge,” said Van Hollen.

In May the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a similar hearing covering some of the same ground. At the time estimates to replace the bridge were pegged between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion. 

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