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Understanding the Supply Chain Impacts of the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse

Contributors: Scott Shaw

As supply chain professionals, we are once again looking to understand a sudden disruption’s impact on the supply chain – this time, it’s the supply chain impacts of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse and the implications of the U.S.’s 20th largest port being cut off.

Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse: Supply Chain Impacts

What Happened

The Dali cargo ship, carrying 4,700 containers, lost propulsion and steering in the Baltimore Harbor early Tuesday morning, colliding with the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The impact caused several sections of the bridge to collapse, rendering it inoperable, effectively closing off the Port of Baltimore to maritime traffic, and tragically taking the lives of six construction workers.

Short-Term Impacts 

Activity in the Port of Baltimore, which handled $80 billion worth of cargo in 2023, has come to an abrupt halt.  This port’s location and specialized roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) handling capabilities make it the number one U.S. port for the auto industry and farm and construction equipment industries, meaning these supply chains will be the most immediately affected. Baltimore is also a large importer of Gypsum, a product used in fertilizer and wallboard, so a cost increase is likely for those products.

Additionally, ASR Group operates the landmark Domino sugar refinery – the 2nd largest sugar refinery in the U.S. – on Baltimore’s inner harbor. While ASG says there are six to eight weeks of raw sugar on hand, short-term price increases in sugar and processed foods should be expected.

Several ships are currently in the port in various states of loading and unloading. Though no concrete timelines have been shared, it will likely be weeks, if not months, until the bridge debris is cleared and the port is accessible again. In this time, cargo ships will have to divert to other East Coast ports, likely Ports of New York/New Jersey or Philadelphia. These substitute ports are further from the typically Midwest destinations of the cargo and will cost more in rail and trucking to get to their final destination. Additionally, it should be expected that the cost of trucking, rail, and general congestion will be increased at the substitute ports.  

Long-Term Impacts

While clearing the entry to the port will likely be complete in the upcoming months, the bridge will likely take a few years to rebuild. A part of the Baltimore Beltway, the Francis Scott Key Bridge, is one of the only options for trucks that are too large for the alternative Baltimore Harbor Tunnel or the Fort McHenry Tunnel. The same goes for vehicles carrying hazardous materials, including diesel fuel. These vehicles will need to circumvent Baltimore, adding time and costs for shipments traveling through the region.

Industries that have heavily relied on the port will likely need to weigh the added transportation cost and time of alternative routes for now, until the port reopens and the bridge is rebuilt.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, a bridge collapse that blocks a major harbor is not something supply chain leaders can be expected to predict and plan for. As we’ve seen repeatedly over the last four years, supply chain disruptions are unpredictable, but they are also inevitable. The only thing we can be sure of is that the next disruption will come from an unexpected direction.

Instead of trying to predict and mitigate an almost unlimited universe of potential disruptions, supply chain leaders should analyze their end-to-end networks so they are able to detect and respond to the next disruption – whatever that disruption may be. Our team continues to monitor this situation and its impact on our clients and the industries we serve.

Clarkston’s supply chain experts can help you make your supply chain more resilient, so you can face the next disruption that is sure to come. If you’d like to chat more, reach out to us today.

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Contributions from Efren Perez

Tags: Supply Chain Planning & Execution