Roberto Clemente Bridge Closes for Rehab
Last week, city officials announced the closure of the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh for almost two years to complete its $34.4 million renovation project. The bridge, also known as the Sixth Street Bridge, is part of a larger rehabilitation project for the city’s "Three Sisters" bridges.
Previously, the city has rehabilitated the Andy Warhol Bridge for $25.4 million in 2016-2017 and the Rachel Carson Bridge for $23.3 million in 2019-2020. While both projects resulted in new lane configurations, the Roberto Clemente Bridge will not require this and plans to maintain its two lanes.
The contract for the structure’s rehabilitation project bid Nov. 4 last year and was awarded Dec. 2 to Mosites Construction and Development Company of Pittsburgh. According to Allegheny County, the work that will occur as part of the project includes:
The work will also include cleaning tower interiors, cleaning of masonry surfaces and coating application. The bridge has a 430-foot span between towers with a total suspended length of 960 feet.
The Roberto Clemente Bridge rehabilitation project is officially underway, marking another significant chapter in the story of Allegheny County’s iconic Sisters Bridges. To learn more about the fascinating history of the Sister Bridges, please visit https://t.co/PcoLJg9jU6. pic.twitter.com/raysR1y9Va— Allegheny County (@Allegheny_Co) February 21, 2022
Exposed masonry surfaces on the bridge, as well as the other two Sister Bridges, will be cleaned along with placement of rock scour protection for the Roberto Clemente and Rachel Carson Bridge piers as part of the renovations.
According to the release, the bridge was last inspected in 2021, with the bridge’s deck, superstructure and substructure rated with a 5, or in “fair condition.” The bridge carries approximately 7,895 vehicles daily across the Allegheny River.
Funding for the project is coming from the Federal Highway Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Allegheny County. It is currently expected to reach completion by December 2023.
In addition to repairs, approximately 11,000 “love locks” previously placed on the bridge will be removed. These locks will be donated to the Industrial Arts Workshop in Hazelwood, which teaches students about sculpture creation and artistic literacy.
“The Clemente Bridge is an iconic symbol of Pittsburgh, and one that visitors and residents alike are familiar, but it too needs some love,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “This significant infrastructure investment will complete the rehabilitation of the third Sister Bridge and also allows the opportunity for a unique, sustainable reuse of the many locks that have been added to the bridge over the years.”
However, residents and visitors were encouraged to remove their own locks prior to the clsoures, with any remaining locks being cut off the bridge’s handrails. Public Works also requests that people stop placing locks on the county-owned bridges, citing that they can damage bridge railings, add extra weight and can be expensive and time-consuming to remove in bulk.
The current railings on the bridge, installed in 2000, are reportedly in good condition, and are planned to be removed, repainted and reinstalled during the project. In the future, Public Works will explore designs to discourage graffiti and lock placement when the railings will need to be fully replaced.
“The Roberto Clemente Bridge is one of the most beautiful bridges and locations in the country, so we understand why couples might want to symbolize their love by placing a lock there,” said Stephen Shanley, P.E., Public Works Director. “That being said, our mission is to protect this important public asset from damage and to keep it as beautiful as possible. The locks make that job more difficult and costly.”
The Roberto Clemente Bridge is one of the three Sister Bridges in Pittsburgh. It is owned by Allegheny County and located over the Allegheny River, connecting the city’s Downtown to its North Shore neighborhood.
The Sister Bridges were built as a result of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899, with local district engineer Captain William L. Sibert reporting that Pittsburgh bridges were not in compliance. These bridges posed an “unreasonable obstruction” to free navigation of waters due to height or span width.
However, work was not able to begin until several years later, due to differing reports regarding the bridges’ compliance and World War I delaying deadlines.
In 1924, Allegheny County voted to approve a $29.2 million bond to fund the bridge work, and construction of the Sixth Street, Seventh Street and Ninth Street bridges soon followed. The bridges were designed by Department of Public Works, architect Stanley L. Roush, chief engineer Vernon R. Covell, design engineer A.D. Nutter and consulting engineer T.J. Wilkerson.
The Sister Bridges are reportedly the only trio of identical bridges in the world. They are also the first self-anchored suspension bridges in the United States, in addition to being the first cantilever-erected suspension bridges in the world.
According to the county, the American Bridge Company built the superstructures, with the Foundation Company building the substructures. The Six Street Bridge, which cost $1.5 million to build, opened on September 14, 1928.
With the renaming of the Sister Bridges after historical figures significant to the area, the Sixth Street Bridge was renamed in 1998 after Roberto Clemente, the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The bridge leads directly to PNC Park, the home of Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates.
Major rehabilitation work on the three bridges began in 2016. The bridges had last been recoated in the early 1990s, which included the removal of lead painted that had been previously overcoated and not removed.