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

Harrisburg Ducks

Harrisburg is really into public art. I’ve mentioned before that they are a city that turns everyday objects into works of art. I’ve shared my reflections on a sculpture that fascinated me. I’ve also shared posts of the remaining pieces from their Cow Parade. On a recent trip to the city, I went searching for more cows based on the sightings someone posted from 2019. In the process, I stumbled across ducks! I found 3 of the 15 ducks that popped up in Harrisburg in 2019. (I also received confirmation that the stray dinosaur I found on a previous trip to the city was from their version of Dino-Mite Days that happened in 2018.) Below are the ducks I found on this trip. I’ll share the “new” cows that I encountered in future posts.

Then & Now: East Liberty Pedestrian Bridge

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.