Update on Mass. bridges, port safety update after Baltimore tragedy

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Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey was supposed to be meeting with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Tuesday but instead found herself offering the state’s support over the Baltimore bridge tragedy, which she called “absolutely devastating and heartbreaking.”

Healey said she was meeting with maritime and bridge experts to make sure the Commonwealth is following the proper protocols, while state transportation officials offered a briefing on bridge and infrastructure safety in light of the unfolding mishap.

The tragedy occurred early Tuesday morning when a container shop lost power and rammed into the bridge, causing it to snap and plunge into the river below. Several vehicles fell into the water, and rescuers were still searching for survivors.

During an appearance on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” on Tuesday, Healey said she was supposed to meet Tuesday morning with Moore, who was in town to be honored with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute Award for Inspired Leadership but had to fly back “in the middle of the night” to attend to the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse.

Six people remained missing hours after a container ship slammed into the Francis Scott Key bridge, causing it to crumble.

“I’ve been in touch with him, I’ve offered him our support as a state to Maryland and Baltimore. My thoughts are with all of the victims and survivors — all those affected by the tragedy,” she said.

Healey also praised first responders, who continued to search the river for survivors throughout the day. Authorities announced Tuesday night that six missing construction workers are presumed dead, and the search has transitioned to a recovery mission.

Healey said Massachusetts continues to regularly inspect its bridges, highlighting that the Tobin Bridge was inspected as recently as a couple of months ago. She also noted that Massachusetts does not have the same level of cargo traffic as the Port of Baltimore.

“We used to, but much of that has changed,” she said.

Still, Healey said Massachusetts “needs to be proactive,” in ensuring the safety of local ports and bridges and explained that after her radio interview she would be meeting with representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Massachusetts Port Authority and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in the wake of the Baltimore bridge tragedy.

“I want to make sure we’re having the conversation to make sure all of our protocols are where they need to be and we are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our ports and bridges,” she said.

Cadets at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, who are taught that passing under bridges in massive ships is never easy, spend a lot of time in a simulator, giving them first-hand experience before they even get on the water.

Leaders at the school say Tuesday’s bridge collapse will certainly be incorporated into future lessons, and possibly into the simulator, to help prepare the next generation of sailors and sea pilots.

In Photos: Francis Scott Key Bridge collapses after being struck by container ship

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu also commented on the Baltimore bridge tragedy at an event Tuesday, calling it “unthinkable.” She said she called Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott in the aftermath of the incident to express her support.

“I know they are managing through a lot right now,” Wu said. “We just continue to send our well wishes and prayers that more of the people who have been impacted by this can be healed and can be recovered.”

She added that while Boston has a lot of shipping coming in and out as a coastal city, “it is all subject to pretty stringent regulations to avoid exactly this kind of situation.”

“We are always hoping that we don’t need to deploy the kinds of training and preparation that our first responders are prepared to deploy, but we are always ready for anything, although we continue to work so that we can have policies in place so that we don’t ever have to have that situation happen.”

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Monica Tibbits-Nutt said after the meeting convened by Healey that, “we are working together to ensure that we are prepared to mitigate any issues as they happen.”

State Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver discussed bridge and port safety and infrastructure as well, noting that while half of the roughly 5,000 bridges that Massachusetts is responsible for go over water, only two have similar profiles to the Francis Scott Key Bridge: the Tobin Bridge between Boston and Chelsea and the Braga Bridge between Fall River and Somerset.

“When a bridge is found to have an unsafe element, we work to take immediate action,” Gulliver noted, adding, “that’s something we don’t fool around with.”

At least 644 bridges across Massachusetts are in need of repairs, a report has determined.

About 12% of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, he said, but pointed out that a designation of structural deficiency doesn’t mean the bridge is safe, only that it requires more regular maintenance to stay operable.

Gulliver also said that Massachusetts’ system for guiding cargo ships in and out of its port, which is smaller than Baltimore’s, seems to be different — Boston’s ship pilots use tugboats that travel with ships the entire time they’re in the port’s area. Nor do Massachusetts ports see many ships that are as big as the one that hit the Baltimore bridge.

But if the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into what happened in Baltimore has any relevant findings for Massachusetts, Gulliver said, “they will inform us of what those findings are right away so that we can take appropriate action.”

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