The numbers that Pittsburgh consultant WSP Inc. has put together estimating the funds the city needs to care for its 146 bridges are stark: $471.6 million over the next 32 years.

That includes $135.4 million for nine bridges that need immediate work, $276.3 million for 98 bridges that need extensive work by 2039, and $59.4 million for long-range projects that should be completed before 2056. Additionally, the city should start spending at least $9.65 million a year on routine bridge maintenance to reduce deterioration, the consultant said.

The good news is that the city is benefiting from renewed participation in the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, which serves as the clearinghouse for federal funding to support the city’s immediate needs and prepare for future projects. A number of city bridges are expected to be added this spring to the agency’s schedule to begin work over the next two years.

On the down side, the city’s budget for routine maintenance has improved slightly but is still substantially below the WSP recommendation.

The city hired WSP shortly after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in January 2022 to give new Mayor Ed Gainey’s administration a full rundown of the city’s bridge needs. Fern Hollow had been rated in poor condition for more than 10 years before the collapse, but the city had done little to obtain funding to fix it.

The consultant has prepared five reports for the city over the past two years, including assessing immediate needs and recommending an in-house bridge division, which didn’t exist before. The Union Progress obtained the most recent reports on the city’s overall bridge needs and yearly maintenance requirements through a right-to-know request.

Eric Setzler, the city’s chief engineer, said the numbers are huge, but they aren’t a surprise. The city has been “very aggressive” in working with SPC and the state Department of Transportation to move immediate and major projects forward, he said, and nine projects have been recommended for inclusion in the June’s Transit Improvement Program, which SPC updates every two years.

“I think it’s fair to say we’re more involved in that process,” Setzler said. “SPC and PennDOT have been great partners in moving these projects forward.

“That way of taking a project from early design to construction is a multiyear process. We have a lot of projects in the very early stages right now.”

The most immediate project is the Charles Anderson Bridge that carries the Boulevard of the Allies from Oakland into Schenley Park and has been closed since last March. After a special appeal from Gainey, the city worked with SPC to cancel emergency repairs and move a full rehabilitation project into the funding stream earlier than expected.

Final design was finished in December, the bids on the work are due before the end of the month, and construction should start before the end of the year.

Setzler noted that at the recommendation of PennDOT the city added the replacement of another small bridge known as Panther Hollow Overpass to the project. The bridge also has problems and it makes sense to upgrade it at the same time rather than interrupt traffic again in a few years, he said.

Both projects could cost as much as $50 million total.

The Swindell Bridge, which crosses above Interstate 279 to link Pittsburgh’s Perry South and Northview Heights neighborhoods and has been closed twice in the past year for emergency repairs, has been under design since last summer. It is scheduled for a $13.7 million rehabilitation that will include rehabilitation of the truss, cleaning, painting and replacement of the deck.

The other seven projects proposed for the new TIP in priority order are:

Davis Avenue Bridge over Woods Run, $3.75 million replacement; Swinburne Bridge over Saline Street in lower Oakland, $26.1 million replacement; 28th Street Bridge over the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway in Polish Hill, $10 million rehabilitation; parking lot bridge over Saw Mill Run Boulevard at Woodruff Street, $1.5 million demolition; West Carson Street bridge over Chartiers Creek, $7.9 million replacement; Bloomfield Bridge, $36.5 million preservation.

Overall, WSP cited 37 bridges in need of high priority work, but some of them were recommended for work after 2026.

Setzler said the city is taking steps to move along other proposed projects by engaging consultants to design small groups of bridges. For example, one consultant will do the Maple Avenue Bridge over North Charles Street on the North Side and the Corley Street and Calera Street bridges over Streets Run on the South Side while another is doing the Elizabeth Street Bridge in Hazelwood and the Herron Avenue Bridge in the Strip District.

Design should begin in a couple of months with construction expected in about three years.

One area where the city continues to come up substantially short is spending on routine maintenance. WPS recommends $9.65 million a year, but the city only has budgeted $1.05 million — up from about $700,000 when Fern Hollow collapsed. Setzler said the city also has about $700,000 in carryover funds from last year.

“We’re still a long way away [from the recommended spending],” Setzler said. 

Some of that work also will be done at a lower cost by an in-house maintenance crew the city is assembling, he said, but that won’t make up the difference.

Inspection reports from Fern Hollow criticized the city for ignoring repeated recommendations for routine work like cleaning drains, which led to serious deterioration of steel components on that bridge.

CORRECTION: This story initially gave the wrong amount that the city has budgeted for routine maintenance.

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