Baltimore’s Key Bridge collapse will ‘significantly disrupt’ East Coast car shipments

BOSTON — The Port of Baltimore is specially equipped to receive automotive cargo and handles the majority of vehicles delivered to the East Coast, according to the Maryland Dept. of Transportation’s website

That particular type of cargo, known in the industry as Ro-Ro, or Roll-On Roll-Off, will be significantly disrupted by the Key Bridge collapse, said Yossi Sheffi, an engineering professor and director of the MIT Center for Transportation Logistics.

“You need special terminals and special docking facilities to be able to handle this type of cargo,” Sheffi said. “Many other ports are not equipped to handle the type of commodities that go to Baltimore. They can take care of some of the [shipping] containers, if they have the capacity, sure. But some of these ports, like Boston unfortunately, are significantly less efficient.”

Ford and GM officials told Bloomberg the companies would divert shipments to other ports after the Key Bridge collapsed Tuesday. More than 847,000 vehicles shipped through Baltimore last year, according to Bloomberg.

The Port of Baltimore saw a record $74.3 billion worth of foreign cargo cross its state-owned and private piers, according to the American Journal of Transportation. Baltimore handled 43.3 million tons of cargo in 2022 – nearly matching its record of 44.2 million tons in 2019, the AJT said.

The head of a supply chain management company told the Associated Press Americans should expect shortages of goods as the Baltimore bridge collapse affects ocean container shipping and East Coast trucking logistics.

“It’s not just the port of Baltimore that’s going to be impacted,” said Ryan Petersen, CEO of Flexport.

According to the AP, Petersen was working with his team Tuesday to reroute about 800 shipping containers currently making their way to Baltimore’s port.

“It’s a scramble because each of those containers has now a new journey to clear customs, you’ve got to get a different truck to pick it up at a different port, it creates a whole lot of downstream work,” Peterson told the AP.

Sheffi doesn’t believe the disruption will severely damage the U.S. economy because the supply chain will adapt, he says, but it will almost certainly cause delays.

“I don’t think it’s something that will impact the GDP,” Sheffi said. “You’re not going to see the GDP drop by several points because the system will adjust. But for the people in the system who will need to take more time [to work around the collapse], something like that doesn’t show up in the economic data.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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