The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Baltimore Bridge Collapse:
Neglect of Vital Infrastructure

Apr 8, 2024

At 1:30 in the morning of March 26, the Dali, a container ship, lost power after leaving the Port of Baltimore and rammed into one of the support pillars of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The collision caused a catastrophic chain reaction that led to the collapse of the 1.6-mile bridge, a portion of which fell onto the ship and into the Patapsco River. The bridge spanned the lower Patapsco River in the outer Baltimore Harbor, including part of the Baltimore beltway, I-695, and part of the interstate highway network. It carried more than 30,000 vehicles daily—that’s more than 1,000 cars an hour on average.

Authorities were able to close the bridge after a warning was received, but six construction workers were killed while repairing potholes on the bridge, falling 185 feet into the Patapsco River.

The news media and Governor Wes Moore want us to believe this was an unforeseeable accident. A rare occurrence. In fact, ships hit bridges on a routine basis. Just a week before, a barge hit the U.S. Highway 59 bridge over the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. In fact, there were 74 reports of vessels colliding with bridges between April 3, 2023, and April 3, 2024. That is an average of six collisions per month! In 1980, 35 were killed when a freighter struck the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay.

There were multiple safety issues with this container ship, the Dali. It lost power and steering, so a huge, undermanned container ship was out of control and approaching the bridge.

The first defense for protecting the base of the bridge was inadequate because the bridge had concrete barriers that were too small and had been previously damaged. A second defense would have been to disallow a huge container ship in inland waters, one that capitalists have greatly expanded in size to minimize cost and maximize profit. Finally, where were the tugs to guide the ship through? In the harbors, tugboats ensure better navigation. But the bosses have cut back there, too, to decrease costs and increase profit.

All these things—larger ship size, small crew size, not using tugs, and no barriers for bridge supports—have one thing in common. It’s all about money and profits. Now, instead of carrying people to and from work, the bridge is creating huge traffic jams for all Baltimore commuters, not just the ones who used to use the bridge. And it is blocking the port, preventing ships from leaving and entering. A total of 15,300 port workers are out of work. There are another 140,000 jobs linked to activities; these workers could also be affected by the port closure.

Make no mistake. The capitalists, their bankers, and their advisors understand the life-threatening problems that are being created in shipping and infrastructure. According to The New York Times, studies show that 309 major bridges on U.S. navigable waterways have deteriorating, potentially outdated, or completely lack protection systems, and around big cities like Boston, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. One hundred ninety-three of them carry 10,000 vehicles per day without protection.

In 2021, the Biden administration pushed through legislation of 40 billion dollars to repair/replace bridge protectors. But this targeted money would address only one-third of the 43,000 bridges in poor condition.

So, they know about it. In fact, they have been making decisions for years that divert money away from infrastructure and into the capitalists’ bank accounts. For those who control the infrastructure, the cost of maintaining it is high, while they view the risk of disaster, like in the Key bridge, to be low. So, the money goes elsewhere.

Under capitalism, profit is the tail that wags the dog. Every second of every day, capitalist bosses and Wall Street are making decisions for all of us based on profits—decisions that put society in danger. The question is not “Is there enough money?” It is how the money, the result of the labor of millions, will be used.

Billions for war, nothing to prepare, maintain, and protect vital infrastructure? Crumbling bridges, roads, water systems, electric systems…. Will workers continue to accept a society that puts profit in front of human life? That society, run by the capitalists, creates a disastrous environment of storms, floods, droughts, and tornadoes while failing to maintain even the basic infrastructure.

The choice for a different world lies with the working class exercising its collective power to get rid of capitalism and replace it with a system that puts life first.