Francis Scott Key Bridge: Historical significance of this engineering marvel of the 1970s

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New Delhi: A cargo ship rammed into a significant bridge in Baltimore in the US, causing it to snap in a few places and plunge into the river below. Several vehicles on the bridge fell into the chilly waters, and rescuers searched for the people. Two people have been pulled out from the waters under the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and one of them is in serious condition. The ship seems to have crashed into one of the bridge’s supports. In this article, we learn more about the bridge and its significance.

The view of the bridge collapse (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Francis Scott Key Bridge

Before understanding the bridge’s history, let us know its exact location. The bridge, just 47 years old, was 8,636 feet long and spanned the Patapsco River (a river in central Maryland that flows into the Chesapeake Bay).

What is the history of the Francis Scott Key Bridge?


The panning of the bridge began in the early 1970s when the traffic started to overflow the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel (through which Interstate 695 crosses the harbour).


The Francis Scott Key Bridge was named after the American lawyer Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to the national anthem. Construction began in 1972, took five years, and was completed in March 1977.

The bridge was considered an engineering marvel, and its construction was regarded as “a major milestone in Maryland’s transportation planning”.

As per Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting historical sites, the bridge was hailed as “a significant engineering accomplishment”.

Historical importance

According to the Maryland Transportation Authority, the bridge is believed to have witnessed British ships bombarding Fort McHenry, which became the bridge’s site in September 1814.

According to the Maryland Center for History and Culture, this event inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics of the poem “Defense of Fort McHenry”, which was later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”. In 1931, the poem officially became the national anthem.

Construction cost

The New York Times reported that when the bridge opened, the construction costs totalled $141 million, roughly $735 million in today’s dollars.


Maryland state government reported that in 2023, over 12.4 million passenger and commercial vehicles crossed the bridge. After the collapse, the vehicles are being rerouted. Since its opening, the bridge has undergone renovation several times. This included a $14 million project in 1986 to repair damage, improve safety, and restore the bridge’s appearance.


The bridge was a toll facility operated by the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA), and the rate for cars was $4.00.

What were the characteristics of the bridge?

Design: Steel arch-shaped continuous through truss bridge
Material: Steel
Total length: 8,636 feet
Longest span: 1,200 feet
Clearance above: 185 feet

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