It’s been four months since the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge over Pittsburgh’s scenic Frick Park. I took the above photo at three months, but didn’t have an opportunity to put together an update. This month, I had the opportunity to do the text update (below) on activity across the city and state related to the collapse, but not to go to the site for a photo. So this post combines a 3-month update photo with 4-month update activity and news. If I have missed anything of interest, please share it in the comments and I will try to include it in future updates.
The project page now identifies “spring” as the timeline for the start of construction for the new bridge. A May 9th article in the Post-Gazette states that work on the new supports began two weeks prior.
An April update to the FAQ on PennDOT’s project page states that it is working with the Office of Public Art to identify artists who could develop aesthetic elements for to-be-determined locations on the bridge.
A redacted version of the Fern Hollow Bridge’s September 2021 inspection report was released this month after a right-to-know request. It details corrosion and holes in the bridge and its support structure. (CBS text and video report, Post-Gazettereport, WTAE report)
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.
Mayor Gainey announced in early May the formation of a Bridge Asset Management Program and the search for a manager for the program through an RFP. (City Press Release, May 5, 2022)
Port Authority’s bridge has been repaired and is back in service. The stop upgrades to the stations in Beechview and Dormont continue. The Red Line T is therefore still out of service with a bus shuttle running sporadically from Dormont through Beechview to Station Square, leaving the residents in this area waiting for unknown periods of time for transportation to jobs and appointments. (I recently waited for over 1 1/2 hours for the shuttle before giving up and calling an Uber.) There is no posted schedule and transit apps do not indicate that there is this disruption to service.
The repairs to the Centre Avenue Bridge and Meadow Avenue Bridge continue with cones marking a narrow road across the Centre Avenue Bridge and the sidewalk on one side closed on the Meadow Avenue Bridge.
Pittsburgh’s local robotics companies continue to make progress in the world of bridges with Advanced Construction Robotics’ TyBOT recently completing 101,564 ties of rebar on a Texas bridge. (Pittsburgh Business Times, May 16, 2022)
It’s been two months since the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge over Pittsburgh’s scenic Frick Park. Below is a summary of updates from across the city and state on activity related to the collapse. If I have missed anything of interest, please share it in the comments and I will try to include it in future updates.
As of March 8, construction is expected to start in April on the new bridge.
The design of the new bridge was released causing chagrin among neighbors, urban designers, accessibility advocates, mobility advocates, and users of the park. The only people I have heard directly or indirectly say only positive things about the new bridge design are engineers (though some engineers also have concerns).
The Pittsburgh Business Times compiled a detailed special report on bridge conditions in the region and what is needed to repair them. Allegheny County has more bridges than any other county in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Statewide, Allegheny County ranks 37 out of 67 for the most poor condition bridges and 44 out of 67 for the most good condition bridges.
Two local start-ups (robotic- and drone-based) are working to provide bridge inspection services that could create more detailed, less biased condition analyses in less time to municipalities and other bridge owners. (Pittsburgh Business Times, February 25, 2022)
The City’s legislation to establish the Commission on Infrastructure Asset Reporting and Investment was signed by the Mayor on March 3, 2022, and is effective as of that date. (City Council legislation page)
The City’s legislation to establish public reporting procedures on city infrastructure by the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure also became effective on March 3, 2022, with the Mayor’s signature. (City Council legislation page)
There are no new updates on the bridge repair being conducted by Port Authority, but as a resident in the affected area, I recently received a letter from Port Authority. This letter announced that they were taking advantage of the existing detour to implement some stop upgrades to the T stations in Beechview and Dormont. These renovations had been on the schedule for the near future and were being bumped up due to the current rerouting. The stop upgrades are expected to take 6 months. The letter did not mention how that would impact the resumption of normal T service. Based on the press release from February 16, there are only 6-8 more weeks of work before the bridge is restored. It seems unlikely that normal T service will resume in Beechview for several months after that with the continued concurrent work on the stops in the neighborhood.
A February 4th Facebook Live Q&A with PennDOT is the only reference I have found yet that says the inspections have been completed on the 5 other bridges in Pennsylvania that use the same K-design as the collapsed Fern Hollow Bridge. At about minute 19:30, a representative from PennDOT states that these bridges have all been inspected or will be inspected by the end of the day on February 4th. He also said that they are all in better condition with ratings of “fair” and “good,” instead of Fern Hollow’s “poor condition” rating, and none have weight restrictions.
The City of Pittsburgh announced on March 2 that they are starting maintenance repairs to the Centre Avenue Bridge that will take place on the underside over several months. The work is not expected to affect pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
The City of Pittsburgh announced in the middle of March that they were “proactively” closing the northern sidewalk on the Meadow Avenue bridge to conduct “necessary,” but “not an imminent structural concern” repairs to the bridge following a routine inspection.
My uncle Jon, the writer, died this week. While he was and did much more than write, our strongest connection was through words. He taught me the basics of blogging, helped me select the platform for urbantraipsing, and gave me advice and support along the way. After years of living with advanced cancer, he was physically in very poor condition. Mentally and spiritually, he remained strong and very much himself until the end. A creative, compassionate, and witty man, Uncle Jon will be much missed.
Fern Hollow Bridge collapse updates, one month later:
The City’s legislation to establish the Commission on Infrastructure Asset Reporting and Investment underwent several amendments last month, but appears to have reached its final version. Perhaps it will be passed and sent to the Mayor for signature soon. (City Council pending ordinance)
The City’s legislation to establish public reporting procedures on city infrastructure by the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure was also amended multiple times. This one appears to have caused more questions as it was also sent for a legal opinion before being passed out of committee. (City Council pending ordinance)
The Port Authority’s South Busway Bridge remains closed with repairs expected to take up to 3 months, though the detour due to the bridge closure is still listed as indefinite (the end date shows as December 2049). (Press release, detour details)
I had intended to do some serious traipsing this weekend in and around Frick Park to see what kind of angles and views I could get on the site of the bridge collapse into Fern Hollow. Unfortunately, a foot injury during the week has limited my mobility to within a short range of my car. Fences and construction tape block unauthorized people from getting closer than the intersection of Forbes and Braddock on the west side of the site.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigation posted investigation details on February 7 describing what happened in the collapse based on the evidence reviewed so far. No probable cause has been determined yet. It is believed that the collapse started at the west end.
The City’s legislation on establishing the Commission on Infrastructure Asset Reporting and Investment is scheduled for council’s standing committee meeting this week. (City Council pending ordinance)
A related piece of legislation to establish public reporting procedures on city infrastructure by the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure was also heard and amended in council last week, but a new date has not been set for moving this legislation forward yet. (City Council pending ordinance)
The cause of the shift was identified in the bridge that Port Authority closed a week after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse. It is believed that water got into the superstructure and with the freeze-thaw weather we’ve been having expanded and contracted causing the shift. (WPXI news article, February 10, 2022)
The City of McKeesport sped up the reinspection and closure of the Versailles Ave Bridge due to the increased risk from the fluctuating freeze-thaw temperatures. (WTAE news article, February 11, 2022)
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has order the inspection of 5 bridges across the state that share the same design as the Fern Hollow Bridge (WTAE news article, February 2, 2022):
Allegheny County (the owner of the Three Sisters Bridges) has plans to resolve 25 of its 27 poor condition bridges by 2024 with seven bridges scheduled to be removed or replaced this year. (Post-Gazette article, February 7, 2022)
A week ago yesterday, an important arterial bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh – on a day that President Biden was already scheduled to be in town to talk about infrastructure. Fortunately, while several vehicles, including a bus, were on the Forbes Ave bridge when it fell into Frick Park’s Fern Hollow, no one died. Several people were injured. Some were treated on site and many were taken to the hospital.
The bridge was one of many in the region that are known to be structurally deficient. The City Controller Michael E. Lamb told the Pittsburgh Business Timesthat “Allegheny County has more structurally deficient bridges than any other county in the nation.” President Biden said in his visit that there are 3,300 bridges in Pennsylvania “just as old and . . . just as decrepit” as the Fern Hollow Bridge. (Pittsburgh Business Times) An editorial in the print edition of this week’s Pittsburgh Business Times noted that the estimated cost to fix all the bridges in Pennsylvania would be $20.7 billion, however, the total allocation of bridge repair funds to the state from the infrastructure bill is $1.63 billion. This is a drop in the bucket of what is needed to maintain the long neglected infrastructure of the region, state, and country. However, it is a drop we didn’t have before. The editorial ends with a call to state and local authorities to make bridge repair a higher priority as “We were lucky with this collapse that no one was killed, but we likely won’t be so lucky next time. Let this serve as a wake-up call.”
There has been a flurry of activity in the wake of the collapse:
A national study was released identifying 43,000 “poor condition” bridges around the country, with Pennsylvania the state with the second highest number of these bridges. (Post-Gazette article)
On a side note, President Biden said he hadn’t known before that Pittsburgh has more bridges than any other city in the world (Pittsburgh Business Times). While I have written about this claim before, I recently discovered that my original source for the number of bridges in the city has some errors (including at least one bridge counted twice due to the renaming of the street carried by that bridge), which has shaken my faith in the claim as a few errors like that would put Venice back in the lead.
Welcome to my Urban Traipsing Blog. Join me as I wander around cities observing their various designs, what makes them similar or different, and how people use and experience them. My current base is Pittsburgh, PA, but other cities in the US and abroad will be included as I visit them. Currently there are two main themes directing my walking explorations: bridges and the adaptive reuse of churches. Both themes provide insight into cities’ pasts as well as their present. Observations outside these themes may emerge along the way. Enjoy!