What the cargo ship bridge crash in Baltimore means for the economy

The Port of Baltimore, the ninth-busiest for foreign cargo, closed on Tuesday.

March 26, 2024, 12:28 PM

A container ship crash that partially collapsed Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge Tuesday has destroyed a key artery for vehicle traffic in the city and closed the Port of Baltimore.

Six people remain unaccounted for as the search continues at the site of the bridge collapse, Coast Guard officials said at a Tuesday-morning news conference. Two people were rescued, including one who was hospitalized and later discharged, officials said.

The Port of Baltimore, the nation's 17th-largest in annual total tonnage of cargo as of 2021, handles more cars and trucks than any other in the U.S, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said in a statement last month. The Key Bridge, meanwhile, carried more than 30,000 vehicles each day.

Baltimore Harbor is expected to be closed for at least a few days amid ongoing rescue and cleanup efforts, Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics, told ABC News. The bridge collapse will not meaningfully impact the U.S. economy, nor will it push Baltimore into a recession, Zandi added, though he said the incident could still cause significant economic ramifications.

The Port of Baltimore set a record last year for the amount of foreign cargo handled at its point of entry, Gov. Moore said.

In all, the port handled 52.3 tons, or $80 billion worth, of foreign cargo, making it the ninth-busiest port in the country last year for such goods.

"The Port of Baltimore is a key component in Maryland's transportation network," Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said in a statement last month.

The port leads all U.S. peers in the handling of autos, heavy farm and construction machinery, imported sugar and imported gypsum, Moore said.

PHOTO: A container ship as it rests against wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, 2024, as seen from Dundalk, Md.
A container ship as it rests against wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, 2024, as seen from Dundalk, Md.
Matt Rourke/AP

The Port of Baltimore handled around 850,000 cars and light trucks in 2023, putting its annual amount above that of any other U.S. port for the past 13 years, according to the Maryland Port Administration.

The port closure could result in "some short-term impacts in the auto market," Zandi said, noting that the outcome will depend on the duration of the blockage and the availability of alternative transportation routes.

Roughly 15,000 jobs depend directly on the port, while nearly 140,000 jobs are linked to its activities, Moore said in a statement last month.

Norwegian Cruise Line operates winter and summer trips through the port, Moore said. In February, the company was set to return later this year.

On top of the interruption of port activity, the collapse of the Key Bridge removes a major passageway for vehicles, especially commercial ones, Zandi said.

Large trucks traveling through Baltimore rely on the Key Bridge, since they're prohibited from using the Harbor Tunnel, an alternative route. Due to the bridge collapse, Zandi added, such trucks will need to travel through the city of Baltimore or take a significant detour, causing notable delays.

Taken together, the supply disruption from the port closure and bridge collapse could put slight upward pressure on U.S. prices, Zandi said.

ABC News' Emily Shapiro, Zunaira Zaki and Elizabeth Schulze contributed to this report.