Last month’s look back at the 40th Street Bridge wrapped up the Allegheny River watershed portion of our 10-year anniversary Then & Now series. This month, we start revisiting bridges in the Monongahela River watershed.
The Terminal Way Bridge – now called The Highline – is unique in the Pittsburgh bridges I’ve walked as it is not a through-way. It is an elevated passage that connects five buildings of a former large warehouse operation. The bridge was previously a car road and parking lot. Pure speculation based on the small factoids and selection of historic photos on the Highline website suggests that at one time, this road was were good were loaded onto local delivery vehicles. Now, it is closed to all vehicular traffic and is instead an outdoor amenity space, exclusively for pedestrians and bicyclists.
While I walked over the bridge multiple times before the renovation, I was never inspired to take a photo of the parking lot that it was. I did, however, take photos of it from below which are still able to show the change from car parking to planters. They also show the change from former warehouse to a place poised to become a hip place is town.
The next bridge in the 10-year look back at urbantraipsing bridge walking is the 40th Street Bridge, which is about a mile from last month’s featured bridge: Herron Ave Bridge. The 40th Street Bridge, aka Washington’s Crossing Bridge, crosses the Allegheny River connecting Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood with the Borough of Millvale.
I first walked the 40th Street Bridge before I had the idea to blog about bridge walking, but as I had my camera with me, I took views from the bridge. Since then, the quality of my cameras has grown exponentially and several developments have arisen on the Lawrenceville side of the river. On the upriver side of the bridge, there is a new apartment complex, The Foundry at 41st, and a new office building, TechMill 41 (see the first pair of photos below).
On the downriver side, phase 1 of the large Arsenal 201 mixed-use development was completed on the former site of the Allegheny Arsenal famous for supplying munitions to the Union Army during the Civil War (see the second pair of photos below). The arsenal is perhaps even more famous for the accidental explosion that is identified as the worst civilian casualty of the war killing 78 people, mostly women and girls. Phase 2 of this development is well under way.
Also, on that side of the bridge, some of the new developments on Butler Avenue near Our Lady of the Angels Parish St. Augustine Church are visible including the new Capuchin Friars home (third pair of photos) and one of the new mixed-use buildings that have popped up in the neighborhood over the last 10 years.
There was a lot of news about the bridge this month. PennDOT and the Mayor’s office held a press conference on Monday to announce that the bridge may be completed before the end of the year. This unusually fast pace is because construction is underway while the design is still being worked out. Inspired by the event, I went to Frick Park after work and explored the view of the bridge from the northern approach along the Tranquil Trail.
While the news is good for the Fern Hollow Bridge reconstruction, there were hiccups this month on the Swindell and Port Authority bridges.
Below is a slideshow of photos from my hike this month followed by the news updates on the Fern Hollow Bridge and other bridge maintenance and replacement efforts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
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. However, there was a press release this month asking for applicants interested in serving in any of the city’s boards and commissions.
WSP USA was selected to manage the City’s new Bridge Asset Management Program. (Tribune Review, July 19, 2022)
On Tuesday, Port Authority found a crack in one of the rails on the bridge that was just repaired. The inbound T service was discontinued for two days to enable the replacement of this portion of track.
On July 1, Pittsburgh’s Swindell Bridge was closed due to falling debris. The falling debris was noticed during the first phase of repairs, which was repaving the road. (City Press Release, July 1, 2022) The subsequent inspection found that the debris came from the repairs – material accumulated in one of the drainage troughs, putting unusual pressure on the trough and causing it to “tear open and spill” the debris onto route 279 – hours after I had driven under it. (City Press Release, July 5, 2022)
Our next stop on the 10-year anniversary series looking at the changes to and around Pittsburgh’s bridges is the Herron Avenue Bridge. This is another bridge that passes over the MLK Jr or East busway. Traveling down the busway toward downtown from the Baum and Centre Bridges we looked at last month, this bridge is three bridges closer to downtown. It connects the Polish Hill and Lawrenceville neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.
On the northeastern side of the bridge is the former Iron City Brewery. When I walked this bridge in 2012, there were plans in the works to redevelop this complex of 20 or so buildings. Ten years later, not much has changed on this site – other than the clearing away a large pile of dirt and debris near the loading docks (visible in the second photo pair below). According to new articles about the site published in 2019 and 2021, some exterior stabilization has occurred and there are still plans in the works to renovate the site (WPXI, CBS, City Paper, Pittsburgh Business Times).
One the other side of the bridge, a major transformation is underway changing from a warehouse with large parking lots to a dense mixed-use development. The new buildings are visible from many angles of and from the bridge (see all but the second photo pair below). Construction started last summer and the project website says that pre-leasing was to begin in spring of this year, but based on the information on the website it doesn’t look like this has begun yet. One of the amenities listed is the views, which include the views of downtown stolen from the bridge.
My foot is finally healed enough for me to begin to explore the site of the bridge collapse over Fern Hollow in Frick Park. I started at the Frick Environmental Center and explored the western slope into the hollow looking for gaps in the trees to see the progress on the bridge construction. The Clayton, Biddle, Bradema, and Tranquil trails all provided glimpses of the bridge site. According to the Hiking Project’s website, the elevation change between the highest and lowest points I encountered was 250′ and the steepest grades were between 13 and 16%.
It was pleasant hiking through the leafy forest, but the foliage hid most of the bridge site. From what I could see through the gaps in the leaves, construction seems well on its way with the four primary support columns erected. In future updates (barring further injury), I will explore the views from the park along the eastern slope and the northern trails.
Below is a slideshow of photos from this exploration followed by the news updates on the Fern Hollow Bridge and other bridge maintenance and replacement efforts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
There are no new updates on PennDOT’s project page regarding the reconstruction of the bridge since my post last month.
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.
The RFP is now closed for the Bridge Asset Management Program that Mayor Gainey announced in early May. (Bidnet.com)
Port Authority’s bridge has been repaired and is back in service. The stop upgrades to the stations in Beechview and Dormont have reached a point where they have reopened to use, though repairs (including morning jackhammering) continue.
Earlier this month, Public Source published an article revisiting the first four months after the bridge collapse. From this article, I learned that the City has launched a separate investigation into the collapse, that the overworked and understaffed Department of Mobility and Infrastructure will need more staff and resources to implement better bridge management in the city, and that a table of the status of Allegheny County’s poor condition bridges was released in February shortly after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse.
The Campbell’s Run Road bridge replacements identified in the County’s list of poor condition bridges are indeed happening this year. I have gotten caught up in traffic congestion caused by the detour for the work several times. (WTAE, February 3, 2022)
Pittsburgh’s Swindell Bridge is one that has been on the radar since the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge. The City announced this week that a first phase of repairs will be conducted over the next couple weeks. This initial phase consists of repaving the road surface. (City Press Release, June 24, 2022)
The next look back at the bridges I first walked 10 years ago moves “downstream” or toward downtown on the former riverbed now east busway and railroad route. From the East Liberty Pedestrian Bridge featured in February, the inbound buses and trains pass underneath three bridges in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood (the South Negley Avenue and South Aiken Avenue Bridges and the Graham Street Pedestrian Bridge) before reaching the approximately parallel Centre Avenue and Baum Boulevard Bridges. The bus station next to the Negley Avenue bridge is currently under reconstruction, otherwise the three bridges and their surroundings in Shadyside are relatively unchanged – except perhaps for some deterioration due to long deferred maintenance. On the other hand, the surroundings of the Centre Avenue and Baum Boulevard Bridges have seen a couple new developments since I first walked these bridges.
The first of these developments is the Luna Parking Garage for employees of the local, ever-expanding hospital giant UPMC. UPMC Shadyside is on Centre Avenue two blocks away from this new(ish) garage on Baum Boulevard. Work had already begun on the parking garage when I walked by in 2012. The permit in the first photo in the then & now sets below is to finish the demolition of the structure formerly on the site. In the paired photo, the landscaping appears in good condition several years after completion of the construction. The second set of photos shows the formerly sloped site change into a massive retaining wall with multi-level garage. On a side note: the “Luna” in the garage’s name is a reference to the Luna Park amusement park that had a short life in the early 1900s on a site across the tracks and two blocks up the hill.
Between the Baum Boulevard and Centre Avenue Bridges is a site that has had a much longer life. Originally a Ford plant and showroom, this building and site were redeveloped by the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) into a research and development space with laboratories, offices, an auditorium, and parking (Pittsburgh Business Times, May 5, 2022). Prior to the redevelopment, this site had caught my eye as I rode the bus by every day on my way to Pitt. The floating doorways and loading docks captured my imagination. My imagination now speculates that these openings were used to create connections with the new addition seen in the fourth photo pair. The pedestrian experience walking by the sloped parking lot in the early 2010s wasn’t pleasant. While the sidewalks felt larger now, the experience was still unpleasant as I felt like I was walking through a pedestrian unfriendly loading and service area while the cantilevered building towering over me felt oppressive. The final photo pair shows the sidewalk experience on both sides of the new addition.
Closing out the East Liberty portion of the Then & Now 10-year anniversary series is the Penn Ave Bridge Ramp. This ramp inspired the second Pittsburgh edition of What is a Bridge?. As best as I can make out from the data on the National Bridge Inventory, the Federal Highway Commission does not consider the ramp a bridge. It is not marked as one of the bridges inventoried by the Commission. And the data for the Penn Avenue Bridge does not include any approach spans. This leaves me wondering who, if anyone, inspects the ramp.
As I cannot find a public source that shares inspection data of the ramp (if it is inspected), its condition rating is anyone’s guess. However, this lack of data may be attributable to the change the ramp underwent in the last ten years. It was originally a ramp for buses to travel from a major bus stop off Penn Avenue onto the East Busway. With the redevelopment of the East Busway Station, this bus stop was redesigned as a regular on-street stop and the ramp was converted to pedestrian access only (second photo set below). The National Bridge Inventory seems to skip over pedestrian bridges as the East Liberty Pedestrian Bridge featured in February is also not listed.
Regardless of the ramp’s condition, its fate now seems tied to the fate of the Penn Avenue Bridge as the gap between the two been filled in with much needed greenspace (first photo set below). The Penn Avenue Bridge was last inspected in May 2020 (which means it probably has been or will be inspected again this month). It received a “poor” condition rating in that inspection – a rating that is worrying for Pittsburghers since the collapse of the “poor” condition Fern Hollow Bridge, despite reassurances from the bridge engineering community that “poor” condition does not necessarily equate to imminent danger.
Just beyond the South Highland Bridge from the East Liberty Pedestrian bridge is the busway’s East Liberty Station. When I moved to Pittsburgh over a decade ago, there were two pedestrian bridges over the busway and train tracks – one at either end of the station – and a ramp providing buses on Penn Avenue access to the busway. Across the tracks from the busway was a one-story, graffiti-covered warehouse, a parking lot, and a drive-through bank. Along Penn Avenue and connected by the ramp to the busway was a major bus stop on its own governor’s drive.
All of this was replaced in 2014-2015 with a transit-oriented development. The two boxed-in (a step beyond caged) pedestrian bridges were demolished and replaced by a new open bridge (first photo pair below) and a crosswalk on the busway. The bus ramp was renovated into an accessible pedestrian ramp (seen in the east view, second photo pair). Plantings were introduced on both the bridge and the ramp, changing this portion of the vast paved, treeless area into a desert oasis. It is still a hot and uncomfortable place to be in the summer months, but at least now there are black-eyed Susans to bring cheer.
The warehouse, parking lot, drive-through bank, and Penn Avenue bus stop were replaced with a massive mixed-use complex called EastSide Bond (glimpsed on the right in the final pair of photos, also visible in the South Highland Avenue Bridge Then & Now post). The new development features 360 residential units, 43,000 sq ft of retail (most of which is occupied, except for the promised anchor tenant), 554 parking spaces in a garage under the buildings, and a 120-space bike parking garage (which I’ve only ever seen a handful of bikes in, probably because Penn Avenue is not a bike-friendly thoroughfare).
Similar to the older, new developments near the East Liberty Pedestrian Bridge, this site and its uses cater to a White and moneyed demographic. However, in 2010, East Liberty had a population that was 67% Black (down from 72.5% a decade prior) and the median income was $23,000. This means the site is catering to an audience that currently makes up a minority of the neighborhood. Perhaps that is why whenever I pass by or stop at one of the retail locations at EastSide Bond, I feel like it has a luke-warm success. In contrast, the Target across the street is heavily trafficked as is the busway station – both are used by the current population.
Once upon a time, Black residents were pushed to East Liberty through Urban Renewal and the demolition of their previous lives. Now, we may be witnessing the pushing out of Black residents through redevelopment and the demolition of their current lives. The current proposed redevelopment of the shopping center south of the East Liberty Station promises to bring the grocery store back and to include 35 affordable units out of 232. There is no mention of whether any of the other smaller retail stores that catered to the current population will be returning. I also wonder if the grocery store will still carry beauty products for darker skin tones when it reopens. Down the street, the redevelopment of the former affordable and predominantly Black Penn Plaza apartments is the latest project that is definitely catering to people who are not the majority residents of the neighborhood, after permitting affordable housing units to deteriorate through neglect before demolishing them.
When I first started walking Pittsburgh’s bridges, the South Highland Avenue Bridge rated among those that were more than a little creepy. First, you were partially caged in. Second, the integrity of the wooden planks holding you up seemed more than questionable. I have no doubt that this bridge was rated in “poor condition” at that time. Now, the new bridge is considered in “good condition” per the National Bridge Inventory as of its November 2017 inspection. It has presumably been inspected twice more since then (November 2019 & November 2021), but those results have not been made publicly available yet.
The reconstruction of this bridge in 2013 made me hopeful that the similarly creepy bridge at South Negley Avenue would also shortly be reconstructed. This has yet to happen. My hope is renewed with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act coupled with the greater attention “poor condition” bridges are receiving this year after the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge. However, according to a recent article on the redevelopment of the busway station adjacent to the South Negley Avenue bridge (Tribune Review, February 16, 2022), funding issues and coordination with Norfolk-Southern Railroad are causing continued delays to the proposed reconstruction of this bridge.
The new South Highland Avenue is a definite improvement over the last one. I no longer cringe at the thought of walking across it as being fenced in is better than being caged in (second photo set below). Yet, it is still not a pleasant experience to walk this bridge. On the other hand, the Smithfield Street Bridge, for example, is a nice bridge to walk despite the many places where the sidewalk has rusted out providing direct views to the river below. The difference in these experiences is in part due to the bridges’ environments – nothing short of climate change will return the former river to what is now the busway and train tracks under the South Highland Bridge. However, design also plays a part in the experience. Many people in Pittsburgh’s architecture and design community are concerned that a poor bridge design will be rushed through on the Fern Hollow Bridge replacement with the excuse that it is an emergency (WESA, March 3, 2022). As the Fern Hollow Bridge has pleasant surroundings, it will be the bridge’s design that makes or breaks the experience of using the future bridge.
The South Highland Avenue bridge was replaced before it turned into an emergency. I assume the reason why it was replaced when it was while the South Negley Bridge continues to rust away is the massive amount of investment and redevelopment that was put into the East Liberty neighborhood in the last 10+ years. Looking west from the bridge, the early developments are visible, including the East Liberty Pedestrian bridge that was last month’s 10-year anniversary featured bridge and the Whole Foods location. These developments are old enough that the “Then” and “Now” views (third photo pairing) look substantially the same. The newer developments are clear in the east view (final photo pairing below), which looks like a completely different world between the “Then” and “Now” views. Next month’s feature will discuss this redevelopment in greater detail.
Just after I began my 10-year anniversary celebration of bridge walking, the Forbes Ave Bridge over Fern Hollow collapsed on January 28, 2022. This accident shone a light on a pattern of infrastructure funding in the time since I became a bridge person. Ten years ago, there were several bridges built, repaired, or replaced in Pittsburgh. Five years later, the flurry of long overdue investment in our infrastructure stopped – before all the bridges that needed help received it. An article on the aftermath of last month’s bridge collapse reminded me that federal funds were allocated toward infrastructure under the Obama administration. As a result, many bridges that were falling apart were fixed or replaced. It seems that when that funding stopped, so did the repairs. Now that new funding has been allocated under the Biden administration, we should see a similar spurt of investment in our infrastructure, starting with the now missing Fern Hollow Bridge.
One of the bridges presumably supported by the Obama infrastructure funding was the brand-new pedestrian bridge across the East Busway connecting the Shadyside and East Liberty neighborhoods. This bridge is 10-years old this month. The “road” surface of the bridge hasn’t held up very well: the paint was faded and the top surface was patchy when I returned this month. On the other hand, the over-the-top lamps and giant glitter looked like they have held up well. Though it’s hard to say in wintertime, the landscaping between the cage and the bridge walls also appeared to be well maintained.
From the bridge, some of the new developments in East Liberty are visible. Looking southwest toward the current location of Whole Foods (soon to relocate), one of the several new apartment buildings along the Baum-Centre corridor is visibly under construction in the far right of the second set of photos. In the third set, the northeast view shows the new South Highland Avenue Bridge and (to the left of the bridge) the final phase of the East Side Bond development that brought several buildings of first floor commercial with residences above.
I was surprised to find that the highly controversial and massive redevelopment of the former Penn Plaza affordable housing complex was not visible from this bridge. Despite being only a quarter mile apart, the first phase of redevelopment is blocked from the bridge’s view by the iconic Motor Square Gardens building. One of the controversies of this new development is that affordable housing units were demolished without replacement for a series of commercial buildings which include the feature anchor of the pricey Whole Foods grocery store.
The pedestrian bridge was controversial when it was proposed and built. It connects the wealthy Shadyside neighborhood to the expensive Whole Foods, a high-end liquor store, and other luxury shops. It is also redundant as the South Highland Avenue bridge is only 0.1 miles away. A quarter mile away, is the neighborhood of Larimar whose residents are primarily living on low-incomes and do not have a walkable route to the lower cost Giant Eagle grocery store or Trader Joes that are just on the other side of the busway from their homes. For years, the residents have been asking for a pedestrian bridge over the busway to give them better access to these stores. Instead of a bridge serving those who need it, an ornamental bridge was built to provide access for those who already have abundant options.
Around the same time that this bridge was built, the Port Authority altered its bus service by eliminating the 94B bus that connected the low-income residents of Larimar with a shopping center featuring Walmart, Giant Eagle, TJ Maxx and similar clothing retailers, and other stores. In addition to providing shopping opportunities for necessities, these locations provided jobs. The 94B bus was never less than half-full (an unusual condition for Pittsburgh buses outside of rush hour). This bus was replaced by the 75 bus, which connected the higher-end shopping centers of South Side Works and Bakery Square through the wealthy residential neighborhood of Shadyside. For years, it was common to be the only person or one of a handful of people riding the 75. Eventually, the Port Authority acknowledged the value of the 94B route and tact it on to the end of the 75 route.
Presumably both the pedestrian bridge and bus route changes of 2012 were supported at least in part by the federal infrastructure funds of the time. With the current round of federal funding, it would be nice to see a greater focus of infrastructure investment for those who need it and not on additional luxury options.