A two-lane bridge in a Pittsburgh park collapsed in early morning on Jan. 28, injuring 10 people, including an unknown number of first responders.
Several vehicles, including a 60-ft articulated transit bus, were on the structure when the collapse occurred just before 7:00 a.m., according to city's Dept. of Public Safety. Initial reports characterized the injuries as minor, although human chains were required along the slope of the underlying ravine to rescue people from the bus. Reports also indicated no reports of injuries to pedestrians who were using the popular walking trail beneath the bridge.
While rescue operations concluded around 8:30 a.m., search and rescue crews were still searching for potential victims underneath the rubble.
The collapse also apparently damaged a gas main attached to the bridge, which was immediately shut off by the local utility.
The National Transportation Safety Board “go-team” arrived at the collapse site in the afternoon.
Built in 1970, the 447-ft-long, three-span continuous steel bridge over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park has received poor superstructure ratings for more than a decade, according to National Bridge Inventory data. Prior to the most recent inspection in September 2021, for which data has yet to be made available, data indicated a recommendation for rehabilitation, citing “general structure deterioration or inadequate strength.”
Although Pennsylvania has regularly ranked among states with the most structurally deficient bridges, the state has gradually reduced the number of problematic structures. According to NBI data, 14.6% of Pennsylvania’s more than 25,400 bridges were classified as structurally deficient in 2020, down from 18% four years earlier.
The collapse occurred just hours before President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Pittsburgh to discuss infrastructure.
The bridge is owned and maintained by the city of Pittsburgh, but the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation “is actively engaged in the response to the collapse,” Alexis Campbell, a PennDOT spokesperson, told ENR in an email. “We will remain engaged with the city, our federal partners and other stakeholders throughout the process in whatever capacity we are able.”
Campbell added: “Today’s events further stress the importance of President Biden’s Infrastructure Law and funding for critical infrastructure repairs in the commonwealth."
Biden Visits Collapse Site, Promises Action
Biden had scheduled a trip to Pittsburgh to speak about his administration’s work in stimulating U.S. manufacturing. He had planned a speech at a former steel mill that is now a Carnegie Mellon University research and development facility.
But after hearing of the early morning bridge collapse, Biden changed his original plan and went first to Frick Park, the site of the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse.
At the site, Biden met and talked with local law enforcement officials about topics including a reported gas leak there. Biden also noted that there are 43,000 bridges in subpar condition nationwide and said, “We’re going to fix them all…this is going to be a gigantic change.”
Biden then traveled to Carnegie Mellon’s Mill 19 facility. He led off his remarks there by talking about the bridge accident, saying that the structure was 50 years old and “had been rated in poor condition for the past 10 years.” Biden added that there are another 3,300 bridges in Pennsylvania, including some that are “just as old and just as decrepit...condition as that bridge was.”
Biden said that the problem isn’t limited just to Pennsylvania. “Across the country,” he said, “there are 43,000 bridges in poor condition. It’s just simply unacceptable.”
He noted that the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has funding targeted at repairing and upgrading bridges. A key part of the IIJA is a new Formula Bridge Program that includes $1.6 billion over five years for the Keystone State, including $327 million in fiscal year 2022, for bridge repairs. “We’ve got to get on with it,” Biden said. “We’ve got to move.”
[View ENR 1/14/2022 article on Formula Bridge Program here.]
Biden added, “And we’re going to rebuild that bridge, along with thousands of other bridges in Pennsylvania and across the country.”
The text of this article has been updated to reflect new information.