Repairs Begin on ‘Serious’ Pittsburgh Bridge
The City of Pittsburgh recently closed the Centre Avenue Bridge, which is rated in “serious” condition, to complete minor repairs. The Pittsburgh Department of Mobility and Infrastructure is actively collaborating with Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Port Authority of Allegheny County to address the maintenance and repairs.
According to a release from the DOMI, repairs will focus on the underside of the bridge and is expected to take several months to complete. The shoulders on both sides of the bridge will be closed for the duration of the project.
The bridge, which connects the city’s Bloomfield and Shadyside areas, was originally opened in 1979. It crosses over a busway and Norfolk Southern tracks.
The 223-foot bridge was initially rated in poor condition beginning in May 2008 due to the condition of its abutments and piers, rating a 4 out of 10, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The bridge was last inspected in May 2020 and was reportedly dropped from the “poor” to “serious” rating due to a “serious structural deficiency” on one of the girders.
The 2020 inspection notes also ordered repairs to be completed within six months, indicating that “if not corrected may jeopardize public safety.” Inspectors were also reportedly concerned about the condition of bolts where the beams are attached to the abutments and concrete loss on the masonry plates.
Pittsburgh begins minor repairs on Centre Avenue Bridge rated in ‘serious’ condition, pushes Port Authority, Norfolk Southern for additional work https://t.co/g3B5ki9LBQ— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (@PittsburghPG) March 3, 2022
However, when a follow-up was conducted in November that year, no repair work had been completed and the bridge was put on a three-month inspection schedule. Inspections completed in February, May and July 2021 reported no repairs had been done, but repairs were reportedly being planned as of July.
Port Authority spokesman Adam Brandolph told the Post-Gazette that repairs to the bridge’s abutment and pier were recently completed after beginning in August, and that a more general upgrade design is underway. Norfolk Southern said it began designing repairs for the abutment and pier that it maintains after receiving the inspection report in December 2020.
The company awarded a bid for the work in September 2021, but reportedly found it needed additional analysis before work can begin. Spokesman Connor Spielmaker said the railroad began installing “temporary shoring” at the end of February.
The Centre Avenue Bridge is one of many bridges that have raised concern in the city since the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in January. Last month, the South Negley Avenue Bridge, which has a “poor” rating, attracted attention regarding wooden posts beneath the bridge’s deck that appear to support the structure.
Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Erika Strassburger, who represents the district where the bridge is located, said she is aware of the concerns and declined to comment on the wooden posts, reports the Tribune-Review. However, she did note the bridge was slated for repairs but could not provide a timeline or costs for the project.
Pittsburgh’s poorly rated South Negley Avenue Bridge is in “sufficient operating condition,” according to Mayor Ed Gainey. https://t.co/f2RRH8im1o— TribLIVE.com (@TribLIVE) March 2, 2022
Records show that the 106-foot-long bridge does not have a posted weight limit because of its condition and is used by an average of 15,000 vehicles a day.
While Pittsburgh City Council has considered creating an infrastructure commission to require regular reports on the city’s infrastructure, members reportedly remain divided. Councilman Ricky Burgess said he didn’t feel they address the lack of funding for repairs.
“What we need to do is we need to find the money,” Burgess said. “We already know our infrastructure is bad. We have some money coming down the pike, but not enough. We need to have that conversation about new funding streams.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey told reporters at the groundbreaking for a revamped Port Authority Negley Station earlier this month, under the Negley Avenue Bridge, that he has asked the state House Democratic Policy Committee to meet to discuss funding for the city’s bridge repairs. Gainey said he “obviously” was concerned when he saw photos of the wooden beams.
“This is what we inherited,” Gainey said. “We’re going to do the things we need to do to make them better.”
Fern Hollow Bridge Collapse
On Friday, Jan. 28 around 6:40 a.m., the Allegheny County Police Department was notified about a partial bridge collapse over Frick Park. Emergency crews arrived at Forbes Avenue Bridge, also referred to as the Fern Hollow Bridge, around Forbes and Braddock avenues.
An articulated Port Authority bus and four passenger vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the collapse, along with a fifth passenger vehicle that drove off the east bridge abutment following the collapse.
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.
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. that day 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.
"We saw today when a bridge is in disrepair, it literally can threaten lives,” Biden said at the event. “We're going to rebuild that bridge, along with thousands of other bridges in Pennsylvania and across the country, because it's in our interest for [our] own safety sake and it generates commerce in a way that we can't do now. That's part of how we're going to build a better America.”
Later in the afternoon, 13 members of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation team arrived at the site of the collapse. On Saturday (Jan. 29), the NTSB announced it had launched an investigation into the collapse, planning to look at the full history of the bridge, including design, construction and maintenance.
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.
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed 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.
The NTSB released its preliminary investigation findings for the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh last month.
According to the release, certain areas of the welded steel girders were identified as being fracture critical, but no primary fractures were found in those areas. Initial assessment indicates the collapse began at the west end of the bridge.
As more debris are removed and areas are more accessible, further examination is expected to be performed. The NTSB also plans to conduct forensic examination of several of the bridge’s components, as well as evaluate the design of the bridge, its condition at the time of the collapse, its maintenance and rehabilitation history and its inspection and load rating history.
“The recovery of evidence, including extraction and documentation, is expected to be a lengthy process,” the NTSB wrote. “All aspects of the collapse remain under investigation while the NTSB determines the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar events.”