Best Pittsburgh Bridge?

From time to time, someone will ask me which Pittsburgh bridge is my favorite. I typically answer the Smithfield Street Bridge. The shape and color of its trusses are unique in a city of golden bridges. The lights gently rising and falling along the curves the the trusses create a soft reflection on the river. Walking over it placed the stress of work on the other side of the river. Walking over it, it’s best not to look down at the holes rusted through the sidewalk that reveal the rushing water underneath.

This question came up again when my family was visiting for the holidays. I had postponed my first walk across the new Fern Hollow Bridge about a week to share the experience with them. While we were walking across it, I was asked what bridge(s) I liked in Pittsburgh. While I answered that the Smithfield Bridge is probably my favorite, we had experienced that one multiple times in the past, so I started to think about what are the other bridges I find interesting that are less visible than the Smithfield Bridge. This spurred an impromptu driving tour of bridges in Pittsburgh.

We went from the Fern Hollow Bridge to the Greenfield Bridge, as the last time we were all in Pittsburgh together we watched the cloud of dust from the implosion of the former bridge through the trees of Schenley Park. We passed the Hot Metal Bridge, Birmingham Bridge, and South 10th Street Bridge before passing through the Armstrong Tunnel for the fun of it. That positioned us to encounter the CAP – which is one of those bridges that doesn’t look like a bridge – on our way toward the Allegheny River. I added an extra turn so that we could pass over the 28th Street Bridge – the only through truss bridge over the busway – before crossing the 31st Street Bridge (my other favorite bridge to walk, except for the fact that it is out of the way). We got out of the car at this point to walk the pedestrian/bike trail bridge to Herr’s Island. While that was the end of this unofficial tour, we did pass by the 40th Street Bridge and cross the R.D. Fleming or 62nd Street Bridge to complete our loop.

Your Choice

In March, you will have the chance to vote for your favorite Pittsburgh River Bridges in the 2023 Bridge Madness Tournament. Details will be announced on March 7.

Bridge Photos

Tour Map

Greenfield Bridge

The Greenfield Bridge, formerly known as the Beechwood Boulevard Bridge, was originally built in 1922, demolished in 2015, rebuilt in 2017, and repaired in 2020. It was a classic case of waiting until the bridge was falling down before replacing it. To increase the lifespan of the original bridge, a second bridge was built underneath, and a net installed as early as the late 1980s to protect cars on the freeway below from the falling debris.

Yet it remained in that deteriorating condition for decades before being imploded in a grand ceremony between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2015. The freeway was covered with tons of dirt, the bridge dropped onto this pile, and the debris cleared away before the highway was needed again for regular commuting. Many people (myself and my family included) stationed themselves on either hillside to watch. We picked a distant vantage point in Schenley Park where we had a great view of the dust cloud that resulted from the demolition.

Another grand ribbon cutting ceremony took place when the new bridge reopened in 2017. A part of the reason for celebration was that, similar to the rebuilding of Heth’s Run Bridge, the historical decorative elements of the bridge were restored or reinstated. The new fencing on the bridge also aimed for a more decorative feel compared to the previous cage-like fencing.

After all the ceremonies and splash around the new bridge, I was surprised to receive a press release three years later announcing that the bridge would be closed for a month to undergo repaving and other repairs. On the one hand, it was nice to see that a bridge was undergoing maintenance instead of being left to fall to pieces before being replaced, but three years seemed early to need this kind of maintenance. According to the Post-Gazette, the repairs were for issues identified in the final inspection before the 2017 reopening. These issues threatened to significantly shorten the projected 50-year life span if unaddressed. Now that those issues have been resolved, I assume it will be at least 50 years before the next press release about repair or renovation for this bridge.