Massive Ship Cargo to Halt Traffic on 2 Major East Coast Bridges

By MarEx 2012-11-20 14:19:00

This afternoon in the Chesapeake Bay, tugboats will delicately maneuver a cargo ship loaded with four supersized cranes under both the Bay and Key Bridges en route to their final destination at the port of Baltimore.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the space between the top of the cranes and the bottom of the bridges is about six feet, a wedge so small that state transportation engineers needed to calculate how much the bridges sag in hot weather. The ship's operator also may have a crewman climb to the top of a crane during the approach to keep in eye on the situation. At the same time, the shipment is 450 feet wide — nearly half the width of the channel under the Bay Bridge.

The Maryland Transportation Authority is stopping traffic on both bridges temporarily to prevent any accidents or traffic build-up due to the massive distractions. The M/V Zhen Hua 13 will pass under the Bay Bridge at low tide, at about 1:15 p.m., stopping traffic for 40 minutes. The ship will pass beneath the Key Bridge at roughly 3:15 p.m., causing a traffic stoppage of about 20 minutes.

The 14-story cranes each weigh 1,550 tons and can reach 22 containers across on a cargo ship. They can lift 187,300 pounds. The cranes were purchased by Ports America Chesapeake for $40 million as part of a public-private partnership that included dredging Berth 4 at Seagirt Marine Terminal to handle the world's largest ships. They left China on April 14th.

In preparation, the ship's operators have lowered the stabilizing booms while shifting ballast to maintain balance. In addition, they added water ballast to lower the ship by about two feet. Two pilots will board the Zhen Hua to assist in docking and travelling the Bay. The ship will approach the first bridge at less than 1 knot and two tugboats will hold it in place, says a Coast Guard official.

Other vessels will not be allowed in the shipping channel during the 17-mile trip between the bridges and law enforcement vessels will provide an escort.