Bridge Collapse: Six Months Later

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 beams for the new Fern Hollow Bridge are being delivered to the site two per day, generating excitement on news and social media. (WTAE video of the first beam delivery, July 26, 2022; CBS article and video, July 25, 2022)
  • Two artists were selected to provide artwork for the new Fern Hollow Bridge (City Press Release, July 25, 2022)
  • Despite the press conference, artist announcement, and beam delivery schedule, there are no new updates on PennDOT’s project page regarding the reconstruction of the bridge.
  • Similarly, no new updates have been posted regarding the National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse.
  • 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)


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:

Five-Month Update

Four-Month Update

Two-Month Update

One-Month Update

Two-Week Update

One-Week Update

Day After

Breaking News

Bridge Collapse: Five Months Later

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.
  • Similarly, no new updates have been posted regarding the National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse.
  • 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)


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:

Four-Month Update

Two-Month Update

One-Month Update

Two-Week Update

One-Week Update

Day After

Breaking News

Then & Now: South Highland Ave Bridge

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.