The Army Corps of Engineers has nearly completed the widening of a key section of the channel linking the port of Baltimore with the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, a project ** that will make the canal route safer and faster for big containerships.
Jeffrey A. McKee, the chief of the Corps' Baltimore Harbor Branch, said he expects the $3.5 million dredging of the Brewerton Channel Extension to be completed in about three weeks.
The work is designed to reduce the risks encountered by ships at the sharp turn where the the Brewerton Channel meets the Tolchester Channel east of the entrance to Baltimore's harbor.
"The turn was a big item for those larger container vessels," Mr. McKee said. The dredging will "make it a lot easier to maneuver," he said.
The C&D; Canal allows ships sailing between Baltimore and ports to the north to avoid the 150-mile trip down the bay to reach the Atlantic. The canal route shortens the voyage between Baltimore and New York by 125 miles, permitting a ship to save thousands of dollars in fuel and to shave hours off its sailing time.
The disadvantage of the canal route is that ships must travel through a long system of narrow channels and difficult turns. The sharpest of those turns currently is the 70-degree angle at the Brewerton-Tolchester intersection.
The difficulty of that maneuver was demonstrated two years ago when the Laura Maersk, a Maersk Line ship, ran aground while trying to make that turn on its way north to the C&D; Canal. After that incident, Maersk ordered its ships to avoid the turn and take a detour to the south, which adds 12 miles and about an hour to the trip.
The completion of the project comes at a time when the port is trying to persuade Maersk, the biggest steamship line in the port, to stay in Baltimore. Brian Hope, a member of the Association of Maryland Pilots, said making the turn easier should help persuade Maersk.
"They've had a bad experience they don't want to repeat. Hopefully this will solve the problem," he said.