Bridge Collapse: One Year+ Later

Irony? Serendipity? A sign I’ve walked too many bridges? It’s been one year since Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed into Frick Park and another important arterial bridge is now closed and I am once again unable to fully explore due to another foot injury.

Shortly after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed, photos of temporary wires holding up the Charles Anderson Bridge supplementing the original metal structure that had rusted all the way through in places peppered social media and made the news with the question of would this be the next bridge to collapse? On February 1, 2023, the Charles Anderson Bridge was “immediately closed” to vehicular traffic (press release). Those with fully functioning limbs are still able to walk or bike across or under the bridge – it passes over another one of Pittsburgh’s major parks (Schenley Park).

The bridge was closed to facilitate interim repairs that may take four months. The bridge has been slated for a full rehabilitation for several years (see the City’s project page for more). The original projection was that this project would be funded this year, but according to a press release from the Mayor’s office on February 2, the expected funds have been delayed until 2027 and the City is looking for ways to expedite the funding.

Also, along the lines of serendipity, I happened to be browsing my copy of Bob Regan’s “The Bridges of Pittsburgh” (2006) this week for unrelated reasons and came across the section “Bridge Disasters.” The section opens with the statement: “Although Pittsburgh area bridges are quite safe and there has been an absence of bridge problems in modern times, this was not always the case.” (page 50) After identifying several of the bridge disasters from pre-modern times (summarized below), he ends this section with “Since that time [1927] there has not been a bridge collapse in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and there has never been a collapse of an operating bridge. However, this record was somewhat blemished in late 2005 with the collapse of a portion (one side girder) of a bridge over I-70 near Washington, PA.” (page 51) Of course, any updated version of the book will now have to strike this claim due to the 2022 collapse of the operating Fern Hollow Bridge.

Driving over the new Fern Hollow Bridge this week, it looked in pretty much the same condition as in December with one lane of traffic in each direction and one shared path open. There were several bikers and pedestrians using it while we crossed during the latter part of rush hour.

Bridge disasters highlighted in “The Bridges of Pittsburgh:”

  • 1845 – The original Smithfield Street Bridge burned down
  • 1851 – The 16th Street Bridge burned down
  • 1865 – Two spans of the 16th Street Bridge was washed away in a flood
  • late 1880s – The 6th Street/St. Clair Street Bridge burned down
  • 1903 – The Wabash Bridge collapsed during construction
  • 1918 – The 16th Street Bridge burned down (again)
  • 1921 – The 30th Street Bridge burned down
  • 1927 – The Mount Washington Roadway Bridge collapsed during construction
Charles Anderson Bridge, February 10, 2023

Below are the news updates on the Fern Hollow Bridge and other bridge maintenance and replacement efforts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

  • The proposed artwork for the new bridge is among the elements not yet completed. I didn’t find any new information on this since the NextPittsburgh article of September 26, 2022, that I cited in the December update.
  • PennDOT’s project page regarding the reconstruction of the bridge has not been updated since March 2022, except to add a sentence at the beginning to say that the bridge is now complete and operational, despite the fact that it is not fully open yet due to ongoing work/finishing touches.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse was updated on January 26, 2023, with details of what has been investigated to date including photos of some of the parts of the collapsed bridge. It also now contains a link to a preliminary docket of materials that have been gathered in the investigation. They are still working out the cause of the collapse and recommendations to prevent such incidents in future.
  • 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.
  • Pittsburgh’s Swindell Bridge, which closed from July to September 2022 due to falling debris, is currently under lane restrictions and is expected to close for a month later this year for additional repairs. (Pittsburgh Union Progress, February 12, 2023)
  • The closure of the west sidewalk of the South Negley Avenue Bridge doesn’t phase some people as they by-pass the barriers and continue on their way, in fact one of the barriers had been completely moved aside the last time I drove across the bridge, presumably by someone who found it in their way.
  • The Lincoln Avenue and Fremont Street bridges were closed for repair January 2023 by PennDOT in Millvale, PA – a small town across the 40th Street Bridge from Pittsburgh (WPXI, January 27, 2023)

Map of bridges discussed in the Bridge Collapse series:


Additional Resources:

Both PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration have interactive maps of bridges for the state and country respective, and their inspection statuses. Pittsburgh now has the static Comprehensive Bridge Asset Management Program Report of the 147 bridges owned by the City of Pittsburgh.

Bridges in Pittsburgh with community engagement pages for pending rehabilitation or replacement projects:


Previous Fern Hollow Bridge Posts:

Eleven-Month Update

Six-Month Update

Five-Month Update

Four-Month Update

Two-Month Update

One-Month Update

Two-Week Update

One-Week Update

Day After

Breaking News

Bridge Collapse: Eleven Months Later

Six months after Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, PennDOT and the Mayor’s office announced that the new bridge would probably open before the end of the year. The ribbon cutting for the new bridge was held on December 21 (Governor Tom Wolf News, WPXI, Pittsburgh Business Times) and the bridge opened to partial traffic the following day. There is one lane of traffic open in each direction and one “shared path” open on the south side of the bridge. Work on the bridge will continue through the spring.

The initial designs showed a bridge designed for highway vehicle traffic with pedestrian and bicycle access tacked on in a thoughtless way. Despite public outcry and professional push-back, the initial designs went primarily unchanged. As the bridge is not fully open, there is a chance that in execution it won’t be as bad as the initial design suggested, but it’s not off to a promising start.

The shared path on the south side – the one that’s now open – connects to sidewalk on the east side of the bridge and to the trails in Frick Park on the west side. There is no existing sidewalk to continue walking along Forbes Avenue to Squirrel Hill. While this path is unusually wide for a bridge, it appeared to be just a sidewalk when I visited it this week. I adopted the term “shared path” based on the videos of the ribbon cutting, which claimed that’s what it is. Perhaps there will be signage added eventually that bikes are also permitted, but I didn’t notice a way for bikes to get up onto this path from the road. While I’m clearly judging this bridge already and finding it wanting, I will continue to monitor its progress and will be open to finding it better than I do now once all the amenities are open and I’m no longer confronted with pedestrian dead end signs.

Below is a slideshow of photos from this month’s traipsing of the bridge followed by the news updates on the Fern Hollow Bridge and other bridge maintenance and replacement efforts in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

  • The City announced traffic pattern changes now that the bridge is reopening, breaking up one of the smooth travel paths for vehicles trying to cross the eastern neighborhoods on a north-south axis. (City Press Release, December 22, 2022)
  • The proposed artwork for the new bridge is among the elements not yet completed. (NextPittsburgh, September 26, 2022)
  • For whatever reason, PennDOT’s project page regarding the reconstruction of the bridge has not been updated since March 2022, making it a completely useless resource.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse was last updated in May 2022, but this was initially described as a long-term effort.
  • 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.
  • WSP USA released it’s Comprehensive Bridge Asset Management Program Report of the 147 bridges owned by the City of Pittsburgh – lots of work needs to be done on Pittsburgh’s bridges. (City Press Release, December 22, 2022; Tribune Review, December 21, 2022; WPXI, December 22, 2022)
  • The City of Pittsburgh’s 2023 Capital Budget includes limited funding for bridge repair and maintenance. (Public Source, December 5 & 22, 2022)
  • The bridge Port Authority closed to repair shortly after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, and then had to re-repair in July, seems to be okay now.
  • On July 1, Pittsburgh’s Swindell Bridge was closed due to falling debris. It reopened on September 1. (City Press Release, September 1, 2022; CBS, September 1, 2022; WPXI, September 1, 2022)
  • The Finland Street Pedestrian Bridge underwent an emergency demolition on October after being struck by a crane attempted to pass underneath. (City Press Release, October 7, 2022; City Press Release, October 8, 2022)
  • The City of Pittsburgh announced in November that it was going to close the east sidewalk on the South Negley Avenue Bridge (one of the bridges that the public is concerned about its highly deteriorate appearance) out of an “abundance of caution” to accommodate repairs, however, it was the west sidewalk that ended up closing. (City Press Release, November 23, 2022)
  • A public hearing was held on the Davis Avenue Bridge Reconstruction project in September. (City Press Release, September 28, 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:

Six-Month Update

Five-Month Update

Four-Month Update

Two-Month Update

One-Month Update

Two-Week Update

One-Week Update

Day After

Breaking News

Then & Now: Terminal Way Bridge

Last month’s look back at the 40th Street Bridge wrapped up the Allegheny River watershed portion of our 10-year anniversary Then & Now series. This month, we start revisiting bridges in the Monongahela River watershed.

The Terminal Way Bridge – now called The Highline – is unique in the Pittsburgh bridges I’ve walked as it is not a through-way. It is an elevated passage that connects five buildings of a former large warehouse operation. The bridge was previously a car road and parking lot. Pure speculation based on the small factoids and selection of historic photos on the Highline website suggests that at one time, this road was were good were loaded onto local delivery vehicles. Now, it is closed to all vehicular traffic and is instead an outdoor amenity space, exclusively for pedestrians and bicyclists.

While I walked over the bridge multiple times before the renovation, I was never inspired to take a photo of the parking lot that it was. I did, however, take photos of it from below which are still able to show the change from car parking to planters. They also show the change from former warehouse to a place poised to become a hip place is town.