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

Breaking News: Fern Hollow Bridge Collapse

A bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh this morning. While not an iconic bridge, the Forbes Avenue Bridge over Fern Hollow was significant as the sole road link over Frick Park. With this link missing, motorists and those using public transit will have to travel several miles out of their way through some very congested roads. Pedestrians and bicyclists have some shorter options using the park’s trails.

The bridge was built in the early 1970s and as far as I know has not had any significant maintenance work done since then. It is owned by the City of Pittsburgh. Based on the National Bridge Inventory by the Federal Highway Administration, the bridge was in “Poor” condition, had an inspection frequency of 18-24 (units were not included, hopefully this is months), the structural evaluation was “Minimally Tolerable,” the substructure was rated “Satisfactory” while the superstructure was rated “Poor,” average daily traffic was 10,000-15,000, and the detour route would add 2-5 miles. In addition, this site estimates the replacement cost at $6.5 million. I could not find the date of the last inspection on the NBI site. Based on a summary of inspections on BridgeReports.com, which sites the NBI as its source, the bridge was inspected every two years between 1991 and 2017, so presumably there were additional inspections in 2019 and 2021.

There was a bus and some other vehicles on the bridge when it collapsed. The two passengers on the bus were taken to a hospital with “minor injuries” as was a third person. Seven other people are reported to have “minor injuries” that did not require a hospital visit. The City’s first official press release on this disaster says that rescue efforts concluded at 8:30am, but that underneath the bridge was still being checked for potential victims – some of the park’s well-used trails pass underneath. WTAE has videos from the scene; the Tribune Review has quotes from nearby residents on what they heard and saw this morning. This story has also made national news with coverage by on the US News and World Report website.

The coincidences: President Biden is scheduled to speak in Pittsburgh today about infrastructure, including bridge maintenance, the overnight snow may have limited vehicular and foot traffic over and under the bridge, and I just happened to be somewhere where the news was on this morning in time to see the first news report on WTAE (I never watch or read the daily news).

Mayor Gainey is quoted as saying “we were fortunate.” The people using the bridge were unfortunate that the bridge collapsed when it did, but given that it did collapse, they were fortunate in that it appears there are no serious injuries and no deaths. It was also fortunate that the collapse happened before rush hour and on a bridge that was over land. If this was one of our river bridges or if it happened during rush hour, serious injury and death seem impossible to avoid.

Deferred maintenance of bridges is a real and serious thing. Bridges are a crucial part of our daily lives (especially in places like Pittsburgh). Every time I walk over the Negley Ave bridge over the busway, I warily eye the rusted structure. The old Highland Ave bridge over the busway used to spark the same reaction, but it was fortunately replaced several years ago. The Smithfield Street bridge has holes through the sidewalk. How far do we push our “poor” condition bridges before investing in maintenance and repair?

Growing Parks

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In a recent post, I complained about the lack of engaging outdoor spaces in Pittsburgh.  I recently realized that I was perhaps a little harsh in that assessment.  One of the things that attracted me to Pittsburgh in the first place was the abundance of parks and welcoming open spaces.  Now, as a naturalized Pittsburgher, I may take these places too much for granted.

Pittsburgh is home to five large city parks: Emerald View Park, Frick Park, Highland Park, Riverview Park, and Schenley Park.  In addition, there are Point State Park, neighborhood parks and playgrounds, and parklets and green spaces.

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Downtown has a welcoming outdoor space within a 5 minute walk of almost every office building.  Come noon, the most popular ones are out of seats.  Some have programming on different days.  Market Square and Mellon Square regularly host farmers’ markets, live music, interactive art, and activities.

Yet, these oases are not spread out evenly across the Pittsburgh.  East Liberty used to be considered Pittsburgh’s second downtown and was the third largest economic engine in the state.  After decades of suburban flight and decay, this neighborhood is experiencing a resurgence that is recapturing much of its former dominance.  Yet, when I worked in East Liberty, there were no welcoming outdoor places for me to reasonably get to in my lunch hour.  I ended up eating everyday in the office, which meant the only time I left the office between starting and quitting times was when there was an off-site meeting.

It’s not just East Liberty that is missing out on these outdoor pockets and treasures.  Much of the city’s riverfronts are still dominated by industry or freeways.  Many neighborhood don’t have parks or the ones that are they have not been maintained.

Pittsburgh does have good outdoor spaces, but it could have better.  The riverfront is a visible place to expand upon the earlier successes such as Point State Park and the Watersteps.  The adult-friendly, public swings which spurred my previous post Engaging Riverfronts is one way to expand upon that.  I look forward to more ideas and implementations across the city.

 

Frick Park Bridges

Some of my favorite Pittsburgh amenities are the city parks, which I don’t use nearly as much as I would like.  Each park has a slightly different flavor.  Highland Park has a reservoir that is popular among locals for walking and jogging exercising.  When I was a kid, I loved Highland Park because it had the best playground in the city–the wooden playground, perfect for all kinds of imaginary games including those set in pirate ships and castles.  Schenley Park is good for disc golf, ice skating and other sports.  Frick Park is best for hiking and provides a good escape from the noise and traffic of the city.

I walked 7 “bridges” in Frick Park.  Only one of these bridges can be counted toward the 446 non-railroad bridges of Pittsburgh.  Three of them I consider bridges, but the actual bridging portion was significantly less than eight feet.  While the other three are also called bridges on the map of Frick Park, they are really just glorified drain pipes.  I do not have a lot to say about any of these bridges, so the rest of the post will be short on words and long on pictures.

The one bridge that counts toward my goal of walking as many of the 446 bridges I can carries Forbes Avenue over the park.  It’s hard to see from the bridge because of all the trees, but one of the park’s main trails passes underneath the bridge.

The three structures I considered bridges crossed over a little stream that runs as parallel to the path mentioned above as nature allows.

The glorified drains are along the hillside where little stream-lets run down to the stream below.