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Two Major East Coast Bridges Will Close Today For 'Delicate Maritime Ballet'

We don't do too many traffic reports, but this news has the potential to be both fascinating and frustrating — depending on whether you're watching from afar or stuck inside a gridlocked car:

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge that carries U.S. Route 50 traffic back-and-forth between Washington, D.C., and mid-Atlantic beaches will be closed for about 40 minutes today, starting around 1:15 p.m. ET, so that a cargo ship carrying four huge cranes can pass (safely, we hope) beneath the span.

About two hours later, the Key Bridge along Interstate-695 outside Baltimore will be closed for the same reason. It should be shut down for about 20 minutes.

This is happening, as fate would have it, on the hottest day so far this year in the region. Temperatures are headed into the mid-90s and it's going to feel like it's 100 or so thanks to the humidity.

Our advice: Don't go near there if you're trying to pass through. Find a cool place to hang out.

According to the Baltimore Sun, in the bay below the bridges "a delicate maritime ballet in two acts will play out." Authorities had to calculate just when to do all this based on the timing of low tides and how much hot temperatures will make the bridges sag.

They estimate, the Sun says, that "the space between the top of the cranes and the bottom of the bridges [will be] about six feet."

According to the Sun, the cranes are headed to the Port of Baltimore, stand 14-stories tall when upright, and "each weigh 1,550 tons and can reach 22 containers across on a cargo ship." The ship carrying them sailed from China on April 14.

Authorities aren't closing the bridges because they fear the ship will strike them, The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock blog says. Rather:

"Traffic will be held to avoid rubbernecking and potential accidents, said John C. Sales, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

" 'We're doing it because we don't want drivers to be distracted by the sight of this large vessel with the cranes passing underneath,' Sales said."

Update at 3:30 p.m. ET: The ship made it under the Bay Bridge, according to the trackers at MarineTraffic.com.

TheSun has video here.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.

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