Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: State, local officials announce $132 million for repairs to three Pittsburgh bridges

State and county leaders on Thursday announced $132 million in funds to repair three major bridges in the Pittsburgh region: Fort Duquesne, West End, and McKees Rocks.

The three steel structures span either the Allegheny or Ohio rivers, and have a combined age of nearly 240 years.

The new funds were announced in a press conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Among those in attendance were Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll, and former Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in his new role as executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

Mr. Carroll told reporters after the press conference that the $132 million from PennDOT would help supplement other federal and state funds already allocated to completing all three bridge repair projects. Of the funds, $25 million would be used for McKees Rocks, $60 million for Fort Duquesne and $47 million for the West End Bridge, he said.

The money would help fully fund the estimated total costs of all three projects, he said, with $90 million in total for McKees Rocks, $162 million for Fort Duquesne and $120 million for West End. Mr. Carroll did not provide an exact timeline for each project, other than saying it would take years for all three to be completed.

Rehab work planned on the bridges includes deck reconstruction, bearing replacement, and other critical needs Mr. Carroll said.

He said the Fort Duquesne Bridge work is the most substantial because it involves 19 total structures, counting both decks of the bridge and all the ramps that lead onto it from the North Shore and Downtown.

“It really is more than just a cosmetic cleaning of the bridge. It’s much more substantial that that,” Mr. Carroll said.

Jason Zang, district executive for PennDOT District 11 — which covers Allegheny, Beaver, and Lawrence counties — told reporters that the easiest project to complete would likely be the McKees Rocks Bridge, due to the least complicated scope of work.

Officials said the funding announced Thursday is critically important to valuable infrastructure that connects people to jobs, school, social activities, and just getting people where they need to be throughout the region. Mr. Fitzgerald said that while the bridges are in decent shape, not taking any action would lead to weight limiting and other restrictions in future years that would hurt the economy.

The condition of bridges has been center-stage in recent years, since the Fern Hollow Bridge in the East End suddenly collapsed roughly two years ago. Since then, that bridge has been rebuilt, and a rehabilitation project of the Charles Anderson Memorial Bridge in Oakland is slated to start this spring. The Roberto Clemente Bridge reopened on New Year’s Eve in 2023, after rehabilitation work began in February 2022.

According to state officials, the McKees Rocks Bridge’s last major rehabilitation project was in 1985, with minor repair projects in 2010 and 2022. Fort Duquesne was last rehabbed in 2009, and West End saw a major repair project in 1991.

Of the three bridges, McKees Rocks is the oldest, opening in 1931. It connects McKees Rocks to Pittsburgh’s Brighton Heights neighborhood, and is the longest bridge in Allegheny County. Including the longest elevated ramp, it is nearly 7,300 feet long.

Pittsburgh engineer George Richardson modeled the bridge on New York’s Hell Gate Bridge, according to a Post-Gazette report on the history of the region’s bridges. Its engineer, Gustav Lindenthal, also did Pittsburgh’s Smithfield Street Bridge.

The West End Bridge, connecting the city’s West End and North Side, first served motorists and pedestrians in 1932. It was the longest tiered-arch bridge in the country when it was completed, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Pittsburgh voters approved a $43.7 million bond issue in 1928 that helped pay for multiple infrastructure projects, including the West End and McKees Rocks bridges. E.V. Babcock, a former Pittsburgh mayor and Allegheny County commissioner, said after the result that the voters’ decision “puts Allegheny County into a position to keep up the race for supremacy among the great centers of population in the United States,” The Pittsburgh Press reported.

Of the three structures, Fort Duquesne is the newest, opening in 1969. The double-decker span connects from Point State Park to the city’s North Shore and other North Side neighborhoods, and is roughly 430 feet long, not including the length of the ramps that approach it from either side.

The main span was completed in 1963, but there were significant delays in acquiring the right-of-way for the approach ramps on the northern side — locals dubbed it “The Bridge to Nowhere” and The Pittsburgh Press reported that it was known then as “America’s most expensive fishing pier.”

It replaced the Manchester Bridge, which was demolished in 1970.

Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny/Fayette Central Labor Council, said it’s important to remember the human aspect of the bridge repair projects — over 150,000 people cross all three spans every day. And a few thousand people in the trades will help repair them, he said.

“We are the City of Bridges, but our bridges are our gateway,” Mr. Kelly said. “They’re our identity as a region.”

View the full article at post-gazette.com.