A supplementary report from Pittsburgh’s bridge consultant calls for high-priority repairs on 66 of the city’s 147 bridges at a cost of $11.7 million.

Work already has started on some of the projects, and the rest are being reviewed, with safety of the structures the highest priority, said Eric Setzler, the city’s chief engineer. Not all of the work will be done within the two-year recommendation, Setzler said, but the city will prioritize the most important work and do it first.

The report, obtained by the Pittsburgh Union Progress through a records request, was prepared by WSP Inc. in March. Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration hired WSP shortly after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed into Frick Park in January 2022, bringing more attention to a series of city bridges that have had poor inspection ratings for 10 years or more.

The consultant initially reviewed the inspection reports on all city bridges to develop recommendations for needed work, how to set priorities, establishing an enhanced maintenance program and running a newly formed bridge team. That led to the report on short-term needs.

The WSP report broke the needed work into four categories based on estimated cost: more than $1 million (two bridges); $200,000 to $1 million (11); $50,000 to $200,000 (27); and under $50,000 (36). The report, sent by WSP project manager Louis Ruzzi, stressed that cost estimates were developed only from inspection reports, so detailed on-site analysis would be needed to determine the exact work to be done.

Those projects include bridges that need work within the next two years and bridges that would face similar needs if interim work isn’t done in that time frame.

“The highest priority maintenance items are typically deck and joint repairs which pose an immediate safety hazard to pedestrians and vehicles,” the report said. “Areas of steel superstructures with significant section loss do not pose an immediate safety risk but could require the posted capacity of some bridges to be dramatically reduced in the near future.

“Leaking joints are high priority items because they create a high potential for further steel section loss.”

The review did not include the Charles Anderson Bridge, the Schenley Park structure that was closed in February after an inspection revealed serious structural problems. Rather than make emergency repairs, the city moved up an already planned $48 million rehabilitation of the bridge that will now begin early next year.

The two most expensive projects are work on the Corliss Tunnel on the city’s South Side ($2.44 million) and the Swindell Bridge over Interstate 279 on the North Side ($1.36 million). The tunnel is being monitored for falling debris from crumbling concrete on the walls, Setzler said, and some work already is scheduled to begin on Swindell in a few weeks.

Swindell, which closed for several months last year after debris fell onto the highway under it, will close for 28 days while a contractor replaces beams on the western end of the bridge at a cost of $540,000. That’s less work than WSP recommended, but Setzler said it will allow the bridge to stay open with four lanes of traffic until a $27 million full rehabilitation begins in 2026.

The bridge, which connects Perry South and Northview Heights, has had a poor rating for more than 10 years. The rehab project will include additional steel and concrete repairs, a new deck and full painting.

Other work will be performed with an emphasis on safety, Setzler said, but that work shouldn’t cost as much as $11.7 million. About $7.5 million is more likely, he said.

“We’re kind of taking their report and comparing it to what we’re doing and going from there,” he said. “These needs and repairs certainly are things we are aware of.

“We have to tailor what we do and pick off as many of the easy ones as we can. Of course, to be able to fully fix all of the items would be ideal.”

One area on which the city will concentrate is the expansion joints on bridges, which WSP emphasized because they leak water and road salt onto the understructure of bridges if they are not in good shape. Setzler said the city doubled its bridge maintenance budget to $1.95 million this year, and contractor Michael Facchiano Contracting will use a portion of that to replace expansion joints on 14 bridges.

That’s the same type of problem that the National Transportation Safety Board identified last week in conjunction with severe deterioration on the Fern Hollow Bridge.

Overall, Setzler said he is “very comfortable” with where the city is with its larger structures such as Swindell, Swinburne and Anderson, all of which are in design for major improvements.

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at eblazina@unionprogress.com.

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at eblazina@unionprogress.com.