Bridge Collapses in Pittsburgh, Injures 10
Early Friday morning (Jan. 28), a bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed, injuring 10 people just hours before President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit the city to discuss infrastructure. No fatalities as a result of the collapse have been reported at this time.
"This is a horrible way to underscore just how critical our infrastructure needs are in this country,” said Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in an interview.
“As a result of Biden’s infrastructure bill, the state is now getting $1.6 billion to repair bridges like this one,” he said. “Now more than ever, we need to get to work. We need to make use of the legislation President Biden ushered in, rebuild our roads and bridges, and fix our faulty infrastructure. In Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, and across America, we cannot afford neglect any longer. It’s time to rebuild this nation.”
At 6:39 a.m. on Friday, the Allegheny County Police Department was notified about a partial bridge collapse. Emergency crews arrived at Forbes Avenue Bridge, also referred to as the Fern Hollow Bridge, around Forbes and Braddock avenues.
This morning a bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh. Multiple cars and a bus fell about 100ft down a hillside. There was also a large gas leak.— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) January 28, 2022
First responders arrived quickly. Luckily there were no fatalities so far—they are still searching for possible victims under the collapse. pic.twitter.com/8UxFGGsob8
Five vehicles, including an articulated Port Authority bus, were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. First responder crews rappelled 100 to 150 feet to reach victims, while others formed a “human chain” to rescue people from the bus.
Authorities reported 10 “minor injuries,” with at least three people being transported to the hospital and some of those injured being first responders. None of the injuries were life-threatening, said Pittsburgh Fire Department Chief Darryl Jones. UPMC reported that the patients are in fair condition.
“We were fortunate” that no one was killed, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said Friday morning from the scene of the collapse, where he was joined by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Fetterman and others.
Initial reports from witnesses described a loud noise and hissing sound, along with a strong smell of natural gas in the area.
“The first sound was much more intense, and kind of a rumbling, which I guess was the structure, the deck hitting the ground,” said Ken Doyno, a resident who lives four houses away from the bridge. “I mean, the whole house rattled at that point.”
Responders confirmed that the collapse also caused a gas line to break, prompting an evacuation of homes in the surrounding area. Authorities turned off the gas line, but a few hours later service was restored and families were permitted to return to homes, according to Jones.
“Thankfully the schools were on a two-hour delay for weather so the traffic was less than it would have been normally,” Fetterman said.
President Biden was briefed on the collapse and spoke with state and local officials prior to his arrival in the city. Biden visited the bridge site around 1:30 p.m. on Friday ahead of his previously scheduled trip to Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 research and development center to talk about infrastructure, the economy and supply chain issues.
Urban Search and Rescue crews planned to drill holes into the bridge deck later on Friday, utilizing search cameras “just to make sure everyone is accounted for.” Search dogs were also on the scene.
The National Transportation Safety Board arrived Friday afternoon after announcing it was sending a “go-team” of about 10 people to investigate, with Chair Jennifer Homendy already on the scene.
The cause of the collapse is currently under investigation. Any footage from the bus, which had several cameras onboard, will be used in that investigation.
Bridge History, Inspections
The 447-foot, rigid steel frame bridge with three spans was built in 1970 and owned by the city. According to reports, the posted weight limit of the bridge is 26 tons and sees an average of more than 14,000 vehicles a day.
The bridge goes across Frick Park, one of the city’s largest parks, over the Hot Dog Dam Dog Park and a public walking trail. The park was closed for safety reasons; Pittsburgh Public Safety will advise when it is to reopen.
Gainey told reporters the bridge was last inspected in September 2021, with the report from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation stating that the bridge received an overall “poor” rating and has been consistently found to be in this condition in since 2011. The deck condition and superstructure condition received poor scores, while the substructure condition gained a “satisfactory” rating.
According to PennDOT, Pennsylvania has the third-largest number of bridges in the nation and the average age of bridges in the state system is over 50 years old. PennDOT conducts approximately 18,000 inspections annually on state-owned bridges, with inspection intervals based on each bridge’s condition ratings and several other criteria. Inspection intervals reportedly range from 6 months up to a maximum of 48 months.
The “Bridge Conditions” page on the PennDOT site shows 175 bridges in Allegheny County rated as poor. $1.6 billion of funding from the infrastructure bill is expected to go towards the state’s bridge maintenance.
“We do have people go out and inspect the bridges. As you know, Pittsburgh is the city of bridges. We have a lot of them, and they’re routinely inspected,” Jones said. “So, this one caught everyone by surprise this morning.”
Infrastructure, Bridge Report Card
In May 2021, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, revealing a mediocre, but passing grade. The ASCE, which issues the report every four years, gave the nation a C- for the condition and performance of its infrastructure, a slight improvement from the 2017 report.
“For the first time in 20 years, our infrastructure GPA is a C-, up from a D+ in 2017. This is good news and an indication we’re headed in the right direction, but a lot of work remains,” wrote the ASCE.
The ASCE also pointed out that while strides are being made in the infrastructure sector, the long-term investment gap continues to grow. Over the last 10 years alone, the gap has increased from $2.1 trillion to nearly $2.59 trillion. In its 2021 study, "Failure to Act: Economic Impacts of Status Quo Investment Across Infrastructure Systems," the ASCE predicts that by 2039, infrastructure could cost American households $3,300 a year, or $63 a week.
Of the 17 categories making up the overall grade, 11 were in the D range, indicating “significant deterioration” and that the structures are “approaching the end of their service life.” The categories included aviation, public parks, dams, roads, schools, hazardous waste, stormwater, inland waterways, transit, levees and wastewater.
In expanding on the nation’s bridges specifically, of the more than 617,000, 7.5% are considered structurally deficient and nearly 42% are at least 50 years old. The ASCE also estimates that the nation’s backlog of bridge repair requires $125 billion. Additional estimates revealed that spending on bridge rehabilitation would need to increase from the current $14.4 billion annually to $22.7 billion annually, or by 58%, if conditions are to improve.
Looking at Pennsylvania, the most recent ASCE data from 2018 showed that of the state’s 22,779 highway bridges, 18.3% are classified as being in poor condition. On average, Pennsylvania’s bridges are 15 years older than the national average.
To view the full 2021 report, click here.
Editor's Note: This article is current as of Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. We will continue to follow this story as updates become available.