Indiana Gazette: Baltimore bridge collapse affects shipments of billions of tons of area goods

The Port of Baltimore, which has been closed since a barge collided with and brought down the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the Patapsco River, gets billions of tons and millions of dollars’ worth of goods shipped its way from the Pittsburgh region — including Armstrong, Indiana and Westmoreland counties — according to information provided over the weekend by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

While the data was gathered this past week, it came from a disaggregated freight analysis provided in 2017 from the Federal Highway Administration through the Eastern Transportation Coalition.

An SPC spokeswoman stressed that industry changes and market shifts make possible that the 2017 levels are not reflective of 2024, but, Caitlin O’Connor said, “it was the data that we were able to get our hands on” Friday.

In that year, $609,322,000 in goods were exported from southwestern Pennsylvania to the Port of Baltimore, representing a volume of 2.9 billion tons, while $616,322,000 in goods were imported through Baltimore to the SPC region, representing a volume of 188.96 million tons.

Exports included 3,766,180,000 tons of coal shipped out of the SPC coverage area, with 21.2 percent coming from Indiana, Armstrong and Westmoreland counties — 323.79 million tons from Indiana, 290.5 million tons from Armstrong, and 182.76 million tons from Westmoreland.

That translated into $327.07 million worth of coal exports from the 10-county SPC region (Armstrong, Indiana and Westmoreland, as well as Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties, as well as the city of Pittsburgh), including $28.12 million from Indiana County, $25.22 million from Armstrong County and $15.87 million from Westmoreland County.

The three counties also accounted for approximately a third of the 41.92 million tons of wood products and 25.14 million tons of logs shipped out from the Pittsburgh region through Baltimore.

That included 7.88 million tons of wood products and 2.61 million tons of logs from Westmoreland, 3.08 million tons of wood products and 3.29 million tons of logs from Indiana, and 2.63 million tons of wood products and 2.61 million tons of logs from Armstrong.

In turn, that translated into $38.39 million in exports of wood products from the SPC region, including $7.23 million from Westmoreland County, $2.81 million from Indiana County and $2.40 million from Armstrong County.

Imports to southwestern Pennsylvania included motorized vehicles, machinery, pharmaceuticals, base metals, plastics and rubber, and non-cereal agriculture products, with motorized vehicles providing the largest amount of imports in terms of cost, $539.16 million from the 10-county region, $68.75 million from Westmoreland County, $15.51 million from Indiana County and $11.01 million from Armstrong County.

Much of the commerce involves the more than 200 miles of commercially-navigable waterways in western Pennsylvania, including those in 13 counties covered by the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, Indiana, Armstrong, Westmoreland, Allegheny, Beaver, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Clarion, Fayette, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties.

Mary Ann Bucci, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, said in comments quoted on her organization’s Facebook page that those who import to or export from Pittsburgh often come through Baltimore, as it’s a short truck or train ride away.

“The biggest challenge is going to be what port can handle these additional vessels,” she asked. “And that’s going to be a challenge in the short term.”

Other ports already have been reacting to that challenge. The Port of Philadelphia said this past week that it has received inquiries regarding diverted cargo. On one finds ways that containers and schedules can be tracked.

The Port of Virginia, which covers shipping through Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News and Warren County, all in Virginia, said its operating team was already working with ocean carriers whose vessels were due to call Baltimore and offering the capability of its port to discharge cargoes as requested.

Also, the Associated Press reported, the governors of New York and New Jersey offered to take on cargo shipments that have been disrupted, to try to minimize supply chain problems.

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