What will be the long-term impact of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, Tuesday? What industries will be affected and how? And who in the U.S. supervises ship safety—and are they prioritizing safety ahead of issues like climate change? Steve Bradbury, who formerly served as acting deputy secretary of the Transportation Department, joins the “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss. Read a lightly edited transcript or listen below:

Brian Gottstein: With us right now, we have Steve Bradbury, who’s a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Steve served in the Trump administration as the general counsel of the U.S. Department of Transportation and also served as the acting deputy secretary of transportation. As the department’s chief legal officer, he oversaw all of the department’s rulemaking and enforcement actions. Steve, it’s great to have you here today—unfortunately, talking about a terrible disaster.

Now, let’s talk about the bigger picture here. What does this mean as far as transportation and such?

Steve Bradbury: Well, thank you, Brian. Well, first of all, it means the Port of Baltimore is blocked for a protracted period of time. This huge bridge, the third-largest of its kind in the world, lies in ruins across the channel, blocking the channel.

No ships can go in and out of the Port of Baltimore. That’s one of the busiest, most important ports on the East Coast of the United States. It’s the No. 1 port for the importation of new motor vehicles into the East Coast from overseas suppliers.

So, a huge issue. It’s going to take some weeks probably to cut up and clear all of the debris from the channel. Of course, we can’t even start doing that until search and rescue is over and the safety assessment is done.

But even apart from the Port of Baltimore and the importance of that port and clearing the channel, the bridge itself [is a] critical artery for north-south transportation, especially trucking transportation, up and down the East Coast of the United States.

There are three main arteries through Baltimore. Two of them are tunnels. This is the only bridge.
So it’s the one that hazmat trucks need to take. They can’t take those tunnels. So fuel trucks, other tanker trucks, etc., this is the way they cross through Baltimore on that north-south route.

So it’s going to be a long time before we’ve got this bridge replaced, either with a new bridge or a tunnel. Major, major disruption of traffic and transportation.

Gottstein: Well, and obviously, it’s very early. This just happened today. So it’s early to talk about causes. But we did see the lights go off on the ship before it actually hit, which indicates a power outage perhaps. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Bradbury: Yes, and understand that the ship radioed to the port that it had a power outage. And you’ve seen the videos. You saw it go blink on and off a couple of times. And that means the ship, if that’s true … lost propulsion, lost steering capability—so a massive, massive ship, almost a thousand feet long, fully loaded with containers, 95,000 tons of gross weight … out of control in the channel outside the Port of Baltimore running into a pier of the bridge, which, of course, is not constructed to withstand that kind of collision.

Some early reports suggest that this ship had a similar power outage last year that had been reported.
International authorities collect and track safety issues with ships in international waters, and there’s some report that U.S. authorities reviewed the ship in some way in September and gave it a clean bill of health or at least approved it for coming to U.S. ports. Got to look into that. The National Transportation Safety Board will look into that. That may involve the Coast Guard. Coast Guard is responsible for regulating the safety of ships that use U.S. ports.

Gottstein: So the Coast Guard, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for overseeing … that ships that enter the port, whether they’re foreign ships or domestic, are complying?

Bradbury: Correct. By far the greatest majority are foreign ships that use the ports. And yes, it’s the Coast Guard’s responsibility. That is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which is, of course, under the supervision and management of Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of homeland security, who’s recently [been] impeached by the House of Representatives for his disastrous role in the open-border policies and the harm that’s done to the U.S.

Really is a question of how much of his attention is focused on these critical safety issues as homeland security secretary.

Gottstein: Well, I’ve heard you say earlier that this does raise concerns about the security and resiliency of our major transportation infrastructure. Can you just give a little more detail?

Bradbury: Well, that’s right. Bridges, tunnels, rail lines, ports, critical infrastructure for the nation—[is] a critical focus of homeland security planning for any potential threat to that critical infrastructure, whether from terrorists, foreign adversaries, accidents such as this, disasters. And that’s all coordinated. That homeland security planning is coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security under the management of Secretary Mayorkas. It involves law enforcement at state and local levels, private industry, federal authorities, but again, coordinated by DHS.

And I really question sometimes whether our priorities are as laser-focused as they need to be on mission No. 1, which is safety and security of our infrastructure, which supports our economic vitality, our prosperity. If foreign adversaries could take out infrastructure like this—critical bridges—this is going to have a huge impact on the economic vitality and health and security of the United States.

Some of these agencies, their attention has been diverted to some extent to other policy goals like climate change, like social justice, equity, and that goes for the Coast Guard. It goes for Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, etc.

International organizations are involved here too, and they are focused on climate change. It really makes you wonder whether some of these disasters at some point might be affected by that shift in focus, that shift in prioritization. Again, safety and security of infrastructure, that needs to be mission No. 1 and No. 2. … That’s top priority for Department of Transportation, Department of Homeland Security, etc.