BALTIMORE (NEWSnet/AP) — Officials in Baltimore plan to open a deeper channel for commercial ships to enter and leave the city’s port starting on Thursday.

The move is a significant step toward reopening the major maritime shipping hub that has remained closed to most traffic since the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed last month.

The new channel will be 35 feet deep, which is a substantial increase over the three other temporary channels established in recent weeks. It puts the cleanup effort slightly ahead of schedule, as officials previously said they hoped to open a channel of that depth by the end of April.

Five of the seven cargo ships that have been stuck in Baltimore’s harbor will be able to pass through the new channel, including one loaded car carrier, officials said Tuesday. Other ships are scheduled to enter the port, which normally processes more cars and farm equipment than any other in the country.

The cargo ship that hit the bridge had lost power and veered off course shortly after leaving the Port of Baltimore bound for Sri Lanka. The Dali remains grounded amid the wreckage as crews work to remove massive pieces of mangled steel that came crashing down onto the ship’s deck.

Six roadwork crew workers plunged to their deaths in the collapse. Four bodies have been recovered from the underwater wreckage while two remain missing.

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