Bridge Collapse: Eleven Months Later

Six months after Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, PennDOT and the Mayor’s office announced that the new bridge would probably open before the end of the year. The ribbon cutting for the new bridge was held on December 21 (Governor Tom Wolf News, WPXI, Pittsburgh Business Times) and the bridge opened to partial traffic the following day. There is one lane of traffic open in each direction and one “shared path” open on the south side of the bridge. Work on the bridge will continue through the spring.

The initial designs showed a bridge designed for highway vehicle traffic with pedestrian and bicycle access tacked on in a thoughtless way. Despite public outcry and professional push-back, the initial designs went primarily unchanged. As the bridge is not fully open, there is a chance that in execution it won’t be as bad as the initial design suggested, but it’s not off to a promising start.

The shared path on the south side – the one that’s now open – connects to sidewalk on the east side of the bridge and to the trails in Frick Park on the west side. There is no existing sidewalk to continue walking along Forbes Avenue to Squirrel Hill. While this path is unusually wide for a bridge, it appeared to be just a sidewalk when I visited it this week. I adopted the term “shared path” based on the videos of the ribbon cutting, which claimed that’s what it is. Perhaps there will be signage added eventually that bikes are also permitted, but I didn’t notice a way for bikes to get up onto this path from the road. While I’m clearly judging this bridge already and finding it wanting, I will continue to monitor its progress and will be open to finding it better than I do now once all the amenities are open and I’m no longer confronted with pedestrian dead end signs.

Below is a slideshow of photos from this month’s traipsing of the bridge followed by the news updates on the Fern Hollow Bridge and other bridge maintenance and replacement efforts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

  • The City announced traffic pattern changes now that the bridge is reopening, breaking up one of the smooth travel paths for vehicles trying to cross the eastern neighborhoods on a north-south axis. (City Press Release, December 22, 2022)
  • The proposed artwork for the new bridge is among the elements not yet completed. (NextPittsburgh, September 26, 2022)
  • For whatever reason, PennDOT’s project page regarding the reconstruction of the bridge has not been updated since March 2022, making it a completely useless resource.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse was last updated in May 2022, but this was initially described as a long-term effort.
  • The City created a Commission on Infrastructure Asset Reporting and Investment in March 2022, but this commission has not been added yet to the city’s website listing all Boards and Commissions and I have not seen any announcements of any appointments to the new Commission.
  • WSP USA released it’s Comprehensive Bridge Asset Management Program Report of the 147 bridges owned by the City of Pittsburgh – lots of work needs to be done on Pittsburgh’s bridges. (City Press Release, December 22, 2022; Tribune Review, December 21, 2022; WPXI, December 22, 2022)
  • The City of Pittsburgh’s 2023 Capital Budget includes limited funding for bridge repair and maintenance. (Public Source, December 5 & 22, 2022)
  • The bridge Port Authority closed to repair shortly after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, and then had to re-repair in July, seems to be okay now.
  • On July 1, Pittsburgh’s Swindell Bridge was closed due to falling debris. It reopened on September 1. (City Press Release, September 1, 2022; CBS, September 1, 2022; WPXI, September 1, 2022)
  • The Finland Street Pedestrian Bridge underwent an emergency demolition on October after being struck by a crane attempted to pass underneath. (City Press Release, October 7, 2022; City Press Release, October 8, 2022)
  • The City of Pittsburgh announced in November that it was going to close the east sidewalk on the South Negley Avenue Bridge (one of the bridges that the public is concerned about its highly deteriorate appearance) out of an “abundance of caution” to accommodate repairs, however, it was the west sidewalk that ended up closing. (City Press Release, November 23, 2022)
  • A public hearing was held on the Davis Avenue Bridge Reconstruction project in September. (City Press Release, September 28, 2022)

Additional Resources:

Both PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration have interactive maps of bridges for the state and country respective, and their inspection statuses.

Previous Fern Hollow Bridge Posts:

Six-Month Update

Five-Month Update

Four-Month Update

Two-Month Update

One-Month Update

Two-Week Update

One-Week Update

Day After

Breaking News

Then & Now: Hot Metal Bridge

The final bridge in our 10-year anniversary look back at the Pittsburgh bridges and their environs is the Hot Metal Bridge. This is upriver from the Birmingham Bridge and the last bridge on the Monongahela before the big bend that hides downtown from view.

The Hot Metal Bridge was built to connect the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill’s sites on opposite sides of the Monongahela River. With the industrial decline of Pittsburgh’s steelmaking industry in the mid- to late-20th century, Jones and Laughlin’s operations ceased over the 1980s. The first redevelopment of a portion of their property began in 1981. The redevelopment continues today.

On the south side of the river, the former site of milling operations is now the South Side Works shopping, dining, and residential area. Since 2012, the first marina in the city limits was added here and buildings under construction have opened (first photo pair), other buildings not pictured have been added.

On the north side downriver, the former site of the blast furnaces is now the Pittsburgh Technology Park containing office buildings, parking, and a hotel. The hotel was added in the last ten years as well as several other buildings outside the frame in the second and third set of photos.

On the north side upriver, the former Hazelwood Works is now the Hazelwood Green site a planned mixed-use, multi-block redevelopment. The remaining mill buildings on the site have been redeveloped as office and research facilities with the Mill 19 building visible on the left side of the river in the fourth photo pairing. The space between and around these buildings is expected to be filled in with other buildings of a variety of uses in the coming years.

The final photo pair features the former St Josaphat’s Catholic Church on the South Side Slopes, which is a building I have an eye as one of Pittsburgh’s pending adaptively reused religious buildings. This view shows another angle of the growth of the South Side Works development.

While both South Side Works and the Pittsburgh Technology Park were substantially developed by 2012, they continue to expand. On the other hand, Hazelwood Green is just beginning to be developed and is still predominantly vacant land. In another 10 years, perhaps, the upriver view from the Hot Metal Bridge will be significantly altered.