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

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza: June 2022

Seven years after the initial eviction notices went to the low-income residents of the former Penn Plaza Apartments, the mixed-use redevelopment of the size nears completion of Phase 1.

The former Penn Plaza Apartments was a group of large of apartments buildings that served a low-income population. After years of neglecting these apartments, the owner gave 200 residents notice to vacate within 90 days in the summer of 2015. By then, the surrounding neighborhood of East Liberty was a hopping place to live with low vacancy rates and the average rent much higher than what these residents could afford. There was a large outcry at the time, which only got worse as the owner’s plans for the site were understood. The owner wanted to swap some land with the City and change the zoning district to build a large scale mixed-use development: 54,600 sq ft of retail and 246,090 sq ft of office with accessory parking (see the application materials starting on page 54 from the final Planning Commission review and approval). After months of negotiation with the City and the community, the land and the zone change were given to the development while the affordable housing crisis in Pittsburgh only got worse and the former residents were forced to uproot their lives.

The Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition has more information on what was promised and what happened as the residents were forced to find new housing.

Penn Plaza in the News

While the construction of Phase 1 of the new development appears to be nearing completion, I did not find any news items specifically about the site. News about affordable housing issues in Pittsburgh continue.

Public Source articles discuss:

New affordable housing units opened and another project broke ground in October 2021 (Tribune Review).

A brief from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia on the homeownership gap in that city including findings applicable to Pittsburgh and other cities (East Liberty Development Inc, January 4, 2022).


Previous Posts in the Series

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza – Apr. 2021

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza – Nov. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Penn Plaza – Aug. 2020

“Poor Condition” Forbes Ave Bridge Collapsed Yesterday

Yesterday, after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh a photo circulated on social media of one of the steel support beams of the bridge completely rusted through. This photo was taken in 2018 and reported to the City’s 311 system. While the photo also showed cables that had been added to the bridge to presumably take over the job of the steel beam that then ended in mid-air, the person submitting the photo was concerned that this might not be sufficient. I have seen similar rusted conditions on other bridges that I have walked over or under in Pittsburgh. I cannot remember if it was the Negley Ave bridge over the busway, the Charles Anderson Bridge over Junction Hollow in Frick Park, both, neither, or a handful of other bridges. (Note: both of these bridges are rated in poor condition.)

A neighbor quoted in a Tribune Review article after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse wondered why the bridge hadn’t been repaired or replaced before the accident since it was known to be in poor condition. According to BridgeReports.com, which pulled inspection data on the bridge from 1991-2017, the bridge has been rated as in poor condition since 2011. Based on my experiences and exposure to bridges, I am not surprised that a bridge was left in poor condition for over a decade. This morning, I pulled data from the National Bridge Inventory on the 449 inventoried bridges within a 6-mile radius of downtown Pittsburgh. I was surprised to find that only 10% of these bridges were rated in poor condition.

Below is a chart of the 48 bridges rated in poor condition within a 6-mile radius of downtown, which includes some that are outside the boundaries of the City of Pittsburgh. In those cases, the city owner would be the municipality they are within. The first four columns are the data I pulled from the National Bridge Inventory, the final column is from BridgeReports.com. Both sources were updated through 2018, which means that there have been some changes since then, including the possibility that more bridges have fallen into a poor state. I marked in italics the bridges that I am heard went through renovations in recent years and in bold the one that collapsed. The bridges with hyperlinks are the ones that I have walked and blogged.

OwnerBridge DescriptionYear BuiltYear RenovatedRated Poor Since
StateIsland Avenue Bridge1900
StateWetzel Rd over Pine Creek1936
StateBlvd of Allies over cliff19502018
StateBlvd of Allies over Forbes195219842017
StateRamp U over Old Brady St195419852013
StateRamp R over Brady195619852017
StateRamp H over Forbes, Diamond, 6th Ave196220121997
StatePeoples Rd over Girtys Run1963
StateWashington Ave over P&O RR1965
StateFt Duquesne to 10th St19681988
StateBlvd of Allies over another cliff198120012018
RailroadWest Ohio St over NS RR190319581991
RailroadN Ave & Brighton Rd over NS RR190519292009
County9th Street – Rachel Carson Bridge192619942013
CountyJacks Run Rd over Jacks Run19802019
CountyWible Run Rd over Wible Run1987
CitySecond Ave over Nine Mile Run1886at least 1991
CityShaler St over Saw Mill Run1900at least 1991
CityLowrie St over Rialto St190019722008
CityElizabeth St over Gloster St190019792014
CityRidge Ave over NS RR19031957at least 1991
CityTimberland Ave over Saw Mill Run1909at least 1992
CityFremont St over Girtys Run1911
CityLincoln Ave over Girtys Run19111950
CityLarimer Ave over Washington Blvd1912at least 1991
CityGrant Ave over Girtys Run19141986
CityKlopper St over Girtys Run1915
CityLincoln Ave over Girtys Run19151986
CityFrazier St over Saline St191519892007
CityS Negley Ave over E Busway19241973at least 1991
CityW Carson St over Chartiers Creek192519782009
CityAnsonia Pl over Saw Mill Run192519981995
CityMaple Ave over N Charles St19291953at least 1991
CitySwindell Br over East St193019902009
CityCalera St over Streets Run1931at least 1991
City28th St over Busway & RR19311974at least 1990
CityE Main St over Chartiers Creek19342002
CityCharles Anderson Bridge193819872012
CityMission St over S 21st St193919822010
CityRiver Ave over Bike Trail193919862008
CityGanges Way over Streets Run19512016
CityE Liberty Blvd SB over walkway19682009
CityForbes Ave over Fern Hollow19702011
CityHerron Ave over Busway & RR19802018
CityMcArdle over Sycamore St19832017
CityMilroy St over I-27919862011
Other Local AgencyCentre Ave over East Busway19792008
Other Local AgencyPenn Ave over East Busway19812018

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?

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Ribbon-Cutting

The ribbon-cutting for the CAP, now called the Frankie Pace Park, happened on schedule on November 22, 2021. The Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Post=Gazette, WTAE, KDKA/CBS, and SAI Consulting Engineers reported on the ceremony. The Tribune-Review and WTAE also have articles on the resolution earlier this month by City Council to name the park after Frankie Pace (1905-1989), a community activist and business owner in the Lower Hill.

The CAP is a project in Pittsburgh “fixing the mistakes” of Urban Renewal. The Crosstown Blvd was built in the 1960s creating a freeway in a canyon dividing the Lower Hill neighborhood from downtown. The Lower Hill neighborhood, formerly predominantly poor and black, had already been demolished by this point to make way for the Civic Arena and other cultural amenities that were never built.

The CAP is a park on a bridge built over the Crosstown Blvd and is intended to reconnect downtown and the Lower Hill, while the Lower Hill is being rebuilt by the Penguins hockey team. Construction began in June 2019 and was completed in November 2021.

This post is an update on the on-going photographic series to watch the development and usage patterns of the CAP. Periodically, once or twice a year, I return to the site to take new photographs. I plan to take the next series of photos next year in the warmer weather to see who uses the park and how. At the end of the post, there are links to the previous posts in this series.

Locating the CAP


Previous Posts in the Series

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Nov. 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Dec. 2021

Overview

The Lower Hill is a notorious site in Pittsburgh, a scar on the city from the height of Urban Renewal. A vibrant (but poor and predominately Black) neighborhood was demolished in the 1950s so the City could build a cultural mecca centered on a Civic Arena, but most of the site ended up not being built and was left as parking lots.

Now that the arena has been demolished and replaced adjacent to the former location, the Penguins hockey team has the development rights to rebuild the Lower Hill, stitching back together the fabric of the city and reconnecting the remainder of the Hill District neighborhoods with downtown.

However, grand language describing the wonderful benefits to a city are part and parcel of any major development project, including the 1950’s Urban Renewal of the Lower Hill. Fifty years later, the Urban Renewal of the Lower Hill is rarely, if ever, described as a good thing. In fact, the current redevelopment is sometimes described as undoing the mistakes of that project. However, can the negative financial, social, and emotional repercussions of the original demolition and decades of disconnect be undone simply by reinstating (most of) the former street grid?

This blog post is part of an on-going photographic series to watch the redevelopment of the Lower Hill. Periodically, approximately once every six months, I return to the site to take new photographs. In addition, I include links to articles about the project that I’ve encountered since the previous post in the series. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.

What’s New

Ground has broken! There are a large hole, giant piles of dirt and debris, and closed sidewalks as construction begins for the new FNB Tower, the first building to be built on the site.

This was also the first time that I’ve visited the site on the day of a Penguins game, which was interesting to see how the sea of parking lots get used for events. At least one of the lots is reserved for employees only during events. There is also a slight price differential, the lot closet to the arena costs $30 to park for the event, while the one at the top of the hill is “only” $25.

Photos

Lower Hill in the News

Controversy and concerns continue over the redevelopment of the Lower Hill from the Executive Management Committee that was appointed to answer how the redevelopment would benefit the entire Hill District in private meetings (September 17, 2021, Public Source, & September 23, 2021, NextPittsburgh) to the impact of a pending change in owner of the Penguins (November 23, NextPittsburgh) and the pending registration of a second community organization in the Lower Hill, which would then also participate in the Lower Hill development activities meetings (November 19, 2021, Public Source). The potential new owner has previously been involved in real estate development around sports arenas (November 21, 2021, Post-Gazette).

Locating the Lower Hill


Previous posts in series

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the Lower Hill: Jan. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Dec. 2021

Overview

Uptown is one of the many neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that experienced decades of neglect. For this neighborhood, the neglect was despite Uptown being sandwiched between Oakland and downtown, two places among the state’s strongest economic regions. Zipping through Uptown from Oakland to downtown on Fifth Avenue or from downtown to Oakland on Forbes Avenue, it is easy to overlook or dismiss the hodgepodge of ruined home foundations turning back to forest; scattered vacant lots, parking lots, and industrial uses; and the intricate architectural details on abandoned and renovated townhomes.

In recent years, new buildings started springing up here and there. Some of these new projects are the work of the two institutions in the neighborhood: UPMC Mercy Hospital and Duquesne University. Others are the work of a variety of commercial and residential developers. Two reasons for this recent investment are the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, which will eventually run through the neighborhood, and the in-progress redevelopment of the Lower Hill, an adjacent neighborhood.

The Uptown community saw these changes coming and prepared. Between 2015 and 2017, the community organization Uptown Partners collaborated UPMC Mercy, Duquesne University, the City of Pittsburgh, and others to create the EcoInnovation District Plan and the Uptown Public Realm zoning district. The plan and new zoning district are intended to guide future development and leverage their economic investment for the greater good of the neighborhood. Ideally, this will reduce the number of those who will be left behind.

This blog post is part of an on-going series watching the changes in Uptown. Periodically, once or twice a year, I return to the neighborhood to take new photographs of the same areas. In addition, I include links to articles about the project that I’ve encountered since the previous post in the series. At the end of the post, there is a map showing the location of the neighborhood and links to the previous posts in the series.

What’s new

Since the last walk through the neighborhood, several buildings have been demolished while those that have been under construction continue to make progress. Progress also continues on a handful of housing renovations in the neighborhood.

The roads and sidewalks were even more rough and patched from the utility line replacements started this spring. According to a recent press release from the Mayor’s office, this utility work will continue next year, so a temporary repaving will be happening shortly to smooth out the roads for the winter season.

While I believe that this utility work is part of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s lead line replacement project, there were new signs up in the neighborhood apologizing for the mess as the neighborhood prepares for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The utility replacement mess has happened in various neighborhoods throughout the city including those that are not part of the BRT routes. However, there was no other obvious mess, yet, that would be more directly associated with the construction of a BRT and need signs of apology.

The Photos

Uptown in the News & on the Web:

The pending Fifth and Dinwiddie development (image 8 above) proposes to be Passive House certified, include double the number of affordable housing units required by the URA as a condition of sale, and provide training on clean energy jobs. (September 20, 2021: NextPittsburgh)

UPMC’s Vision and Rehabilitation Center (images 19, 9, 12 above) is on track to open in 2023 despite construction disruptions, supply shortages, and the pressure placed on existing healthcare systems by COVID. (November 16, 2021: Pittsburgh Business Times, Tribune Review)

Locating Uptown


Previous posts in series:

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Jul. 2021

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Nov. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: May 2020

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Nov. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction (November 15, 2019)

Moral Economics (September 1, 2019)

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Nov. 2021

The CAP is a project in Pittsburgh “fixing the mistakes” of Urban Renewal. The Crosstown Blvd was built in the 1960s creating a freeway in a canyon dividing the Lower Hill neighborhood from downtown. The Lower Hill neighborhood, formerly predominantly poor and black, had already been demolished by this point to make way for the Civic Arena and other cultural amenities that were never built.

The CAP is a park on a bridge being built over the Crosstown Blvd and is intended to reconnect downtown and the Lower Hill, while the Lower Hill is being rebuilt by the Penguins hockey team. Construction began in June 2019 and was expected to be completed in November 2021. As the photos below show, it appears to be predominantly completed mid-November 2021, but the construction fence was still up. There are still a couple weeks left in the month to meet the project schedule. There do not appear to be any news articles about this project since the May post of Keeping an Eye on the CAP. The next bit of news about the site will probably be either announcing the ribbon cutting or a project delay.

This post is part of an on-going photographic series to watch the development and usage patterns of the CAP. Periodically, approximately once every six months, I return to the site to take new photographs. At the end of the post, there are links to all the previous posts in the series.


Previous Posts in the Series:

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: May 2021

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Jun. 2020

Keeping an Eye on the CAP: Dec. 2019

Keeping an Eye on Uptown: Introduction

Oakland Bridges: Blvd of the Allies

The Blvd of the Allies was one of Pittsburgh’s grand public works projects from the 1920s. It rises from downtown, passing along the backside of Uptown and cutting through South Oakland before wrapping up in Schenley Park.

Four bridges enable the Blvd to make its mark on Oakland. Under normal conditions, only one of these bridges is pedestrian usable.

The road makes a flying leap into Oakland on the Boulevard of the Allies Bridge. On the South Oakland side, the Blvd enters a commercial corridor that begrudgingly gives pedestrians a place on a narrow sidewalk that abruptly begins (or ends) at the edge of the bridge. On the other side of the bridge, the Blvd is a mess of highway interchanges, so pedestrians are not welcome to utilize this bridge to go anywhere.

At the other end of the commercial corridor, pedestrians are invited to cross the Charles Anderson Bridge over Junction Hollow and into Schenley Park. (This bridge is also featured in Oakland Bridges – The Hollows.) However, once in the park, pedestrians are pushed away from the Blvd as it changes names and before it cruises through the Park.

The next two bridges are related as one is over the pedestrian route and one over the vehicular route to the recreational facilities of Schenley Park. These facilities include a pool, ice skating rink, disc golf course, tennis courts, and a track. The bridge over the pedestrian route is a small affair to cross over the pedestrian tunnel. The other is a slightly longer overpass over the two-lane segment connecting Panther Hollow Road and Overlook Drive. Neither the tunnel-bridge nor the overpass are open to pedestrians – except during the annual Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, which I once took advantage of for some photographs.

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood Slope: Sep. 2021

Overview

Hazelwood is a neighborhood about 4 miles down the Monongahela River from downtown Pittsburgh. It is currently experiencing significant change, at least in the Hazelwood Green portion. The area that I’m designating as Hazelwood Slope is everything outside Hazelwood Green and the small residential enclave between the tracks and the river that I call Hazelwood Flats. The Hazelwood Slope contains the neighborhood’s commercial corridor, cultural and historical sites, and the majority of the neighborhoods’ residences.

What’s New

After my September 2020 check-in on Hazelwood, it seemed that changes in Hazelwood were happening at a slower pace than the other sites I’m keeping an eye on. So I decided to switch from a 6-month interval to a 12-month interval between visits. A few months ago, I saw construction vehicles and other signs of activity while driving down Second Ave through Hazelwood. I thought perhaps I was missing out on some activity. However, when I walked through the neighborhood this month, I couldn’t find any signs of recent demolition or recent construction.

An exciting project that is projected to start soon is the conversion of the former Gladstone School to affordable housing. There were subtle signs of site prep when I walked by this month. Construction is expected to start before the end of the year with an anticipated completion date in 2023.

The Photos

Second Ave
Hazelwood Ave & Other Sites

Hazelwood in the News

Funding from Bridgeway Capital, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and the Pennsylvania Housing Financing Agency has been awarded for affordable housing projects in Hazelwood. Center of Life, a local non-profit, also received a major donation to support its mission of helping underserved K-12 students and their families in the neighborhood.

Inspired by the popular Friday fish fries in Pittsburgh, Hazelwood’s Community Kitchen launched a Friday BBQ series this year.


Locating Hazelwood Slope


Previous posts in series

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood (across the tracks): Sept. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood (across the tracks): Apr. 2020

Keeping an Eye on Hazelwood: Introduction