The fire damage to Pittsburgh’s Liberty Bridge took longer than expected to repair, but the bridge that connects the Steel City’s downtown to the Liberty Tunnels finally reopened to traffic on Monday afternoon.
The bridge has been closed since a Sept. 2 fire damaged 30 ft of chord truss subject to substantial loads. Traffic on the bridge, which handles 55,000 vehicles a day, was diverted while general contractor Joseph B. Fay Co. and the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation worked nonstop to temporarily repair and realign the damaged lower chord. The jacking process, in conjunction with localized heating, straightened the chord and redistributed the load on the bridge. A nine-ton weight limit has been placed on the bridge while crews continue to add steel to strengthen one truss chord.
“We are very pleased with the team effort over the last 24 days that has allowed us to repair the Liberty Bridge and ensure its safety,” PennDOT District 11 Executive Dan Cessna said in a statement. “I want to thank motorists for their patience as these critical repairs were made to the bridge.”
The news came 11-days after Cessna said repairs would not be complete by Sept. 19, which was the original date he said the bridge would reopen. At the time Cessna said the bridge would take “weeks” to repair. The process was slowed by the fact that another case of a bridge damaged by fire in the same way couldn’t be found to help guide the process.
The fire began when a welder who was working on the bridge’s $80-million rehabilitation accidentally ignited tarps and plastic pipe being stored for the project. Joseph B. Fay Co. was fined $213,000 in liquidated damages every weekday and $72,000 per weekend while the bridge was closed. Local media reported that the penalty will be reduced to $18,000 per day until the bridge’s nine-ton weight restriction is lifted.
When the nine-ton limit is over, the bridge will return to the 30-ton restriction it had prior to the fire. A permanent repair for the bridge will be then designed and installed.