Baltimore Strong

May 22, 2024
A love letter to a great American city

In April, I drove to Baltimore to attend the National Work Zone Awareness Week opening ceremony, hosted by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

I knew it would be a somber event.

In a little over a year, Baltimore’s construction industry has been struck by two major tragedies: six employees of Brawner Builders died when the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed in March, and six highway workers died when a car crashed into their work zone on Interstate-695 in 2023.

Two other workers died in work zone crashes in the months between.

But I also was excited because I had never been to Baltimore, despite spending most of my life a four-hour drive away in Pittsburgh.

Before these tragedies, when someone mentioned Baltimore, I thought about crab cakes, “The Wire,” or the Ravens.

Given the rivalry between the Steelers and Ravens (which the Steelers are winning with a 35-25 regular season record, plus a 3-1 advantage in the NFL playoffs), I have been predisposed to look down on Baltimore.

I was insane to have disdain for this great American city. It’s a blue-collar region that has fought hard to rebound from its industrial heights. It’s beautiful, friendly, and — especially compared to Pittsburgh — easy to navigate.

Baltimore’s roads are organized in a grid and spoke pattern.

The Baltimore-Washington Parkway opened in stages between 1950 and 1954. Its creation gave residents and businesses a direct line to the nation’s capital.

The city’s interstates are some of the best in the country, which is a credit to the workers who built them and those who maintain them.

Baltimore’s main interstate highways (I-95, I-83, and I-70) do not touch. I-70 and I-95 were supposed to connect, but the former wasn’t completed because of freeway revolts in the city. When I was given directions to the National Work Zone Awareness Week ceremony, I was told to “go east on I-70 until it ends.”

“It ends?” I said.

“Yup. Can’t miss it.”

It’s also impossible to miss the pride Baltimoreans have for their home.

The Key Bridge collapse is a global tragedy because of the financial and supply chain implications. But, more than anything, it’s a local tragedy — one that will touch workers in the Port of Baltimore, business owners on either side of the bridge, and people impacted by the traffic the new detours cause. Think of the delivery drivers who are missing their marks or single parents who are late to get home.

From now on, when someone mentions Baltimore, I won’t think of seafood, a television show, or a rival football team. Words like pride, unity, and strength will come to mind.

As Baltimore heals, its leaders will advocate for safety measure to make sure these tragedies are prevented in other cities. Because Baltimoreans have character, too. RB

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