Already distinguished as among the few identical bridges in the world within a few blocks of each other, Pittsburgh’s Three Sisters bridges could become a major tourist attraction as a result of a $6 million programmable lighting system.

Allegheny County, which owns the Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson bridges that cross the Allegheny River to connect Downtown Pittsburgh to the North Side at Sixth, Seventh and Ninth streets, demonstrated the lights on the Carson Bridge for the first time Wednesday evening. Final touches are still being put on the Clemente and Warhol bridges, but all three should be ready for dusk-to-midnight lighting beginning on Light Up Night, Nov. 18.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the LED lights will allow the unique structure of the bridges to stand out as much as they do during the day. The bridges originally had different designs, but the city’s Art Commission in the 1920s insisted on a more open design so that the city and the river could be viewed crossing the bridges.

This light pattern for Downtown’s Rachel Carson Bridge is called “black and gold” and will be run on nights when Pittsburgh sports teams are on national television. (Ed Blazina/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

“At night, people don’t get to see them in all their glory,” Fitzgerald said. “Now they will.”

The county showed off four of the initial eight lighting programs — the default blue and white lights that will run a majority of nights; yellow lights that gradually brighten like a sunrise; black and gold for when Pittsburgh sports teams are on national television; and red, white and blue for national holidays. There will be additional themes for holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Juneteenth.

Programmers could develop a wide range of other displays, including some that will have complementary programs on the neighboring bridges rather than identical presentations. The only limitation is the displays can’t be so active that they distract drivers.

The hope is that the bridges will develop the same type of international acclaim as the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn and the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia and become tourist attractions.

The project had its origins in 2016, when environmental artist Andrea Polli installed LED lights powered by wind turbines as part of Pittsburgh’s bicentennial celebration. That creative display lasted two years, but it encouraged the county to install the appropriate electrical fixtures as it rehabilitated the three bridges so that decorative lighting could be added easily in the future. 

In August 2022, Fitzgerald announced the $6 million investment to install 601,440 programmable LED lights on the bridges. The project was paid for with 80% federal funds, 15% from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and 5% from the county. The county will assume all operating costs. 

This light program is called “Awakenings,” simulating a sunrise, for Downtown Pittsburgh’s Rachel Carson Bridge. (Ed Blazina/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The lights were installed and programmed by Mosites Construction and Development Co., Thoroughbred Construction Group and Integrated Theater Systems. Overall, the system will include 2,628 feet of linear video fixtures on the bridges’ suspenders, 192 rounded fixtures on the eyebars, 132 spotlights on the towers and piers and a dozen custom replica fixtures atop the pylons. All but the pylons are installed on the Carson and Warhol bridges, and the Clemente fixtures will be installed in the next two months.

The pylons will be placed on all three bridges in December. Each bridge will have 200,440 lights.

The bridges, which opened in the late 1920s, are unique because of their identical design as the first self-anchored suspension bridges in the country. They are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Todd Wilson, an executive at Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation who has written a book about the bridges, marveled at the look of the lights.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “It brings so much light and vibrancy to Downtown Pittsburgh. One hundred years ago, they designed it. Now, we will really get to celebrate it.”

For Stephen G. Shanley, the county’s director of public works who oversaw the rehabilitation of the three bridges over the past seven years, the new lights are a fitting finish.

“It’s nice to show off these fantastic structures,” he said.

This is the default decorative lighting for Downtown Pittsburgh’s Rachel Carson Bridge, blue and white lights. The Three Sisters bridges between Downtown and the North Side will have more than 600,000 programmable LED lights that will run regularly beginning on Light Up Night. (Ed Blazina/Pittsburgh Union Progress)
Ed Blazina

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

Ed Blazina

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