Pittsburgh Union-Progress: State awards $132 million to upgrade three big city bridges

Lt. Gov. Austin Davis and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced Thursday the state has awarded $132 million in discretionary funds to help upgrade three major bridges — the Fort Duquesne Bridge, the West End Bridge and the McKees Rocks Bridge.

That money will be used to jump-start ongoing design work to improve the bridges, which have been identified as high-priority projects, but PennDOT didn’t have the money to move forward to construction. The special grants — $60 million for Fort Duquesne, $47 million for West End and $25 million for McKees Rocks — only cover a portion of the estimated costs for the projects but will move the work up by several years, said Jason Zang, PennDOT’s district executive for Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.

During a news conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll said local officials convinced the administration that the bridges need to be upgraded before they deteriorate to the point where they need serious weight restrictions.

“We can’t put off this work much longer,” Davis said. “We have to take action now.”

Zang said the bridge projects are in various stages of design so it hasn’t been determined where construction will begin first. They will not be rehabilitated at the same time because the other two bridges will serve as alternative routes while one is under construction.

“They are at least a couple of years away,” Zang said. “We’ll go through the design process and see which one is ready first. McKees Rocks is probably the closest because mostly we are going to paint it, and Fort Duquesne is the most complicated.”

The special state funding provides an additional benefit, Zang said, because it means the cost of the bridge work will not have to come from the district’s annual construction package of about $350 million a year. Another $162 million can be spent on other local projects that can be done sooner because that money won’t be used on the bridges.

“That [special funding] will help get other projects moving,” he said.

State Rep. Aerion Abney, D-North Side, said the long-standing joke is that Pittsburghers live in their own neighborhoods and react negatively to the idea of crossing a bridge. That’s not true, he said, because many of his constituents have to cross bridges to obtain food, medical care and other life necessities.

“People cross the bridges all the time,” he said. “I can’t overstate the [importance] of this funding.”

Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, said the projects will create about 1,300 construction jobs with good union wages.

“That’s important, but we can’t overlook the people,” he said. “Our bridges are our gateway.”

Upgrades for those three bridges have been on PennDOT’s wish list for several years. In August 2022, the agency applied unsuccessfully for a $165 million federal competitive grant that would have used part of $12.5 billion in competitive funds available under the Biden administration’s infrastructure program.

It packaged the bridges together because they are among the region’s busiest and are located within a few miles of each other between Point State Park and McKees Rocks.

The Fort Duquesne Bridge, which crosses the Allegheny River between the park and Pittsburgh’s North Side, has had several incidents in recent years where chunks have fallen from the bridge into parking lots and streets under it. The 921-foot double-deck bridge is in line for a new deck, expansion dam replacement and structural steel repairs.

In addition to the bridge itself, 19 ramps and smaller bridges at the North Side end would be included in the work.

The projected cost of that work is $162 million.

The McKees Rocks Bridge, the longest in Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties at about 5,900 feet, also needs a new deck and structure work at an estimated cost of $90 million. The bridge spans the Ohio River between the city’s Brighton Heights neighborhood at Route 65 and McKees Rocks at Route 51.

That bridge is in the second phase of a $22.4 million project to replace sidewalks and upgrade a series of ramps on the Route 51 end of the structure.

Although the West End Bridge was added to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission’s Transportation Improvement Plan two years ago for $1.6 million in planning funds, PennDOT included it in the federal grant application in an effort to move it along faster. The bridge is 1,979 feet long and crosses the Ohio River to join the city’s Chateau and West End neighborhoods.

A total rehab of that bridge is estimated at $120 million.

Zang said the agency will continue to seek conditional federal funding for the projects.

View the full article at unionprogress.com.