Cars and Bus Left Teetering as Bridge Collapses in Pittsburgh

·4 min read
Pittsburgh Public Safety
Pittsburgh Public Safety

Four cars and a bus were left teetering on the edge of disaster when a Pittsburgh bridge with decade-old structural issues collapsed early Friday morning, snapping into multiple pieces and tumbling into a park below.

Photos of the bridge, which was consistently rated as being in poor condition as far back as 2011, showed cars trapped in a chasm of cracked concrete and snow, and a Port Authority bus teetering just inches from a huge crack.

It happened just hours before President Joe Biden was set to visit Pittsburgh to talk about his $1.2 billion infrastructure plan.

Miraculously, there were no fatalities but 10 people Pittsburgh Fire Bureau Chief Darryl Jones said 10 people suffered minor injuries, and three were taken to a hospital.

Officials said crews rappelled almost 150 feet to reach some people, while others formed a human chain to get the driver and two passengers out of the dangling bus. Port Authority spokesman Adam Brandolph said the collapse caused the bus to slide backwards at a 45-degree angle, but it somehow snagged on some rubble and stopped just short of a massive crevice.

“It’s surreal, the entire span of the bridge has collapsed into the park and the walking trail below,” Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman told CNN.

Thankfully, he added, schools were on a two-hour delay due to snow on Friday morning so the bridge didn’t have its usual school traffic.

Mayor Ed Gainey said the bridge, which goes over Hot Dog Dam Dog Park and through Frick Park, was inspected just last September. Records from that inspection weren’t yet publicly available.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation database on bridges in Pittsburgh rated the state-owned bridge as in “poor condition” after a 2019 inspection.

The 52-year-old, 447-foot steel bridge, which carries about 14,000 cars a day, had poor deck and superstructure condition, with advanced deterioration of primary structural elements. It had satisfactory substructure condition, with some minor deterioration. It was weight restricted with a 26-ton limit.

The National Bridge Inventory says that the bridge’s superstructure (i.e. everything that support the roadway and connects the main elements of the bridge) has been in “poor” condition since 2011. A 2017 inspection, the last available, recommended $1.5 million in repairs due to “general structure deterioration or inadequate strength.”

Then in 2018, a passer-by posted a photo to Twitter showing an “X” beam entirely rusted and detached.

The bridge’s condition isn’t unusual for Pennsylvania, which ranks second only to Iowa for the most “structurally deficient” bridges in the nation, according to a 2019 assessment.

PennDOT’s database shows that more than 150 local- and state-owned bridges in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, are in poor condition, however that can range from serious structural deficiency to potholes, officials previously said.

Allegheny County has both the highest number of bridges in the state, and the highest number in poor condition. About eight percent of its 1,186 state-owned bridges and 20 percent of its 397 local-owned bridges are in poor condition.

Upkeep is a constant struggle in Pittsburgh, the so-called City of Bridges, due in part to the vast number of bridges over its three intersecting rivers. Road salt and severe weather also speed up corrosion.

Pittsburgh Public Safety said Friday morning that the a gas line was cut during the collapse and there was a strong smell of natural gas in the area, prompting surrounding homes to be evacuated. The Red Cross has been contacted for victim assistance.

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