Pittsburgh bridge collapses hours ahead of Biden’s visit

Northeast

PITTSBURGH (NewsNation Now) — A snow-covered two-lane bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh early Friday, prompting rescuers to rappel nearly 150 feet while others formed a human chain to help rescue multiple people from a dangling bus.

Four cars and one bus were on the bridge at the time of the collapse, including the bus. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman told “Morning in America” that the bus disengaged from both ends of the span and fell into Frick Park, the city’s largest park. Fetterman rushed to the bridge in just a hoodie and shorts when he heard about the collapse.

“This is an instrumental piece of Pittsburgh’s infrastructure,” Fetterman said just 15 feet away from the collapse. “The most important takeaway is that, thankfully, no one was killed. But I certainly would say that it’s a stark wake-up call of just how critical making these investments in our infrastructure is.”

The bridge collapse came hours before President Joe Biden was set to visit the city to talk about the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that includes bridge maintenance. Fetterman said it was a “jarring coincidence” that the collapse happened the morning of Biden’s visit.

“We’ve got to keep getting the infrastructure rebuilt, reimagined, and together for the next 100 years,” Fetterman said on “Morning in America”. “This bridge is 100 years old and it demonstrates just how critical these investments are in our communities, just not here locally in western Pennsylvania but all across Pennsylvania and all across the nation.”

The bridge collapsed near South Braddock and Forbes avenues near the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood just before 7 a.m. local time, according to Pittsburgh Public Safety.

It could take six months to a year or more to replace the bridge, one city councilman said Friday.

A photo from the scene showed a commuter bus upright on a section of the collapsed bridge.

Resident Tracey Baton, who often passes under the bridge while hiking through Frick Park, said that from the top the bridge “looked fine.” From the bottom, it appeared “kind of old and beat up,” she said.

“Our expectations of infrastructure are so low that I think that’s part of why people didn’t notice,” Baton said.

Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Chief Darryl Jones said there were 10 minor injuries, including some to first responders. Three people were brought to the hospital. None of the injuries were life-threatening, Jones said. Authorities said they were flying drones to make sure no one is under any collapsed sections.

City officials said the collapse caused a gas leak, but the gas has since been shut off.

In a statement, the White House said Biden would proceed with his planned trip to Pittsburgh.

“Our team is in touch with state and local officials on the ground as they continue to gather information about the cause of the collapse,” the statement said. “The President is grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time.”

The steel span, which was built in 1970, carries about 14,500 vehicles a day, according to a 2005 estimate.

A September 2019 inspection of the city-owned bridge revealed the deck and superstructure to be in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory. A spreadsheet on the state Department of Transportation website listed the bridge’s overall condition as poor, which, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, means “deterioration of primary structural elements has advanced.”

Authorities said Friday the bridge was last inspected in September of 2021 but those reports were not readily available. The report has been requested from PennDOT.

During a news conference on Friday, Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor said the most recent inspection report noted that the bridge was in poor condition but not to the extent that it needed to be closed.

Moving forward, the city needs to “bump up” its standards to prevent a situation like Friday’s collapse from happening again, he said.

According to O’Connor, repairs to the bridge about two years ago included replacing steel beams with “some kind of Bungee Cord” to hold it together.

The NTSB said they would have crews on the ground to investigate by Friday afternoon.

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