It was a common sight in the City of Bridges, but it was nothing special. The bridge, which carried four lanes of Forbes Avenue over a scenic forested ravine and was supported by a steel frame, served the city’s East End communities as a means of transportation. Despite the fact that it was around 50 years old and in terrible condition according to inspectors, it was not especially outstanding in Pittsburgh even by these standards.
Then, on Friday morning, just hours before President Joe Biden was set to arrive in the city to examine the state of the country’s infrastructure, the bridge crumbled into a snowy valley below the bridge. According to a hospital spokesperson, at least ten persons were hurt, with four of them suffering injuries severe enough to need hospitalisation. The incident did not result in any deaths, and authorities said that none of the injuries were life-threatening.
The fact that it occurred on the same day as Mr. Biden’s visit was an unfortunate coincidence, which one local official described as “surreal.” Upon arriving in the early afternoon, President Barack Obama’s convoy came to a halt near one end of the collapsed bridge, where authorities and rescue workers were huddled in the snow, staring down at the twisted remains of the structure.
There are 3,300 bridges in Pennsylvania, some of which are just as old and in just as bad a shape as that bridge, he said, promising that “we’re going to rebuild that bridge, and thousands of other bridges throughout Pennsylvania and the country.”
Because of the large backlog of essential repairs, authorities agree that the $1.6 billion that the proposal devotes to the state’s bridges would only be a start in addressing the situation.
According to State Senator Jay Costa, whose district contains the collapsed bridge, a comprehensive examination of the bridge and other infrastructure in the county needs to be completed at the earliest available opportunity.
Nearly 450 bridges may be found in Pittsburgh alone, with a significant number of them in in need of repair and restoration. During a phone conversation from a location not far from where the bridge was shattered in the ravine, Mr. Costa said, “This was not a high-priority bridge.”
Former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Pittsburgh section, Jonathan Shimko, believes the collapse was most likely caused by years of neglected maintenance rather than a single incident of faulty design or construction. Mr. Shimko said that, because to the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind nature of infrastructure,” bridges and other infrastructure “usually don’t receive a lot of attention until something tragic like this occurs.”
According to inspection records, it transported around 14,500 cars every day as the primary artery through the heart of Frick Park, a 644-acre stretch of forested hills named after Henry Clay Frick, one of the city’s most renowned — and brutal — steel magnates.
Since the 1960s and 1970s, when bridge development in the United States was at its peak, many bridges are now approaching the end of their useful lives. However, because of a lack of funding, state and municipal transportation authorities are more likely to put off required repairs.
“Deferring maintenance over a long period of time accumulates,” Mr. Heaslip said. “And that’s sort of what we witnessed here,” says the author.
A landslide destroyed a section of a major roadway not far distant, a fact that Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald highlighted in his call for money in the infrastructure package, pointing out that a major thoroughfare not far away had fallen only four years earlier.
The governor said that “we’ve been putting things off and waiting and pushing, sometimes beyond the point of no return, and postponing these things that needed to be done because the money simply wasn’t there,” he explained.
Many Pittsburghers who routinely walk and jog under the rusty span of the bridge on the trails that wrap around Fern Hollow Creek were acutely aware of its predicament, as was the general public. Approximately three years ago, Greg Kochanski, a software engineer, was walking his dog beneath the bridge when he discovered that one of the X beams that supported the bridge had become so corroded that it had been detached from the column to which it was originally attached.
His tweet to the city prompted the city to investigate the situation, and he claimed to have discovered that the corroded beam had been removed some weeks later.
“I wasn’t expecting everything to come crashing down,” Mr. Kochanski said in an interview on Friday morning. “But, no, it didn’t take me by surprise.”