For Many in Baltimore, the Key Was the City’s ‘Blue Collar’ Bridge


On the northern end was Sparrows Point, once home to the massive Bethlehem Steel Plant, which was once the largest working mill in the world, and is now the site of distribution centers for Amazon, Home Depot and Under Armour. On the other end, Curtis Bay, long home to chemical plants, including a paint company that Mr. Alvarez remembers emitting white clouds so thick they had to close the bridge.

Tens of thousands of Baltimoreans lived and worked in these areas, Mr. Alvarez said.

The six men who are missing were part of this tradition of working Baltimore: members of a construction crew, working overnight hours filling potholes on the bridge.

As the morning unfolded, and cars and trucks from a legion of government agencies went to and from the collapse site, some of the people who knew the bridge best were forced, this time, to take it in at a distance.

They gathered on a highway embankment across from a Dollar General, to get a look at the broken bridge. There were whispered conspiracy theories among the crowd, pointed concerns about getting to work and doctor’s appointments and bafflement at how this could have happened.

Others just recollected.

“When I got my license in ’75, the only way to get back and forth was the tunnel,” said James Metzger, 66, retired from the automotive industry.

From the windows at his high school, not far from where he was standing, Mr. Metzger would look out and watch the bridge being built, he said. Around that time he was seeing a girl who lived on the other side; a bridge had romantic implications along with everything else.

One day in 1977, Mr. Metzger said, his father, a truck driver, was coming back home from his route and happened upon the bridge’s ribbon cutting. His father had seen the governor, he said, and even kept a piece of the ribbon. The bridge had been a part of their lives ever since.

Until Tuesday morning, when Mr. Metzger’s current girlfriend had called. “She was on the way to work,” he said. “She said I’m seeing police cars and helicopters. And the Key Bridge is gone.”

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