11 Investigates: Collapsed Pittsburgh bridge was slated for replacement but not for another decade

PITTSBURGH — The latest inspection report for the Fern Hollow Bridge, which is a City of Pittsburgh bridge, showed it had a poor rating, but a regional report showed it was not slated for replaced until at least 2033.

So what does it mean for a bridge to have a poor rating?

The bridge was just inspected this past fall, but despite years of structural issues, it remained open with some 14,000 drivers crossing it every day. PennDOT assists the city and county with bridge inspections done through private contractors. There are 175 listed in poor condition in Allegheny County alone.

In Pittsburgh, 20 are at risk of failure.

The Fern Hollow Bridge was described as having a deck and superstructure in poor condition. A bridge’s superstructure consists of the portion that supports the deck and connects one substructure element to another. This could be steel beams you might see under a bridge.

The substructure was rated in satisfactory condition. That is the part of a bridge that supports everything else and distributes all of the weight into the ground. An example might be concrete pillars.

As for county-inspected bridges, there are 11 in poor condition that will be under construction this year. County public works director Steven Shandley explained the county’s process.

“There could be advanced deterioration, problems on the bridge,” he said. “Poor-condition bridges can still be functional.”

Inspection ratings run from zero to nine. A poor rating is a four and generally does not require a closure.

“Five is starting to show deterioration problems of a section,” said bridge inspector Craig Bolinger.

Bolinger is a certified inspector and used to work for PennDOT. He told 11 Investigates he was surprised more was not being done to shore up the bridge at Frick Park.

“We’ve just got to close the bridge or do weight restrictions, whatever needs to be done to make it safe,” he said.

There will now be a failure analysis to figure out exactly what happened to this bridge and to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The recent federal infrastructure bill passed by Congress should help. Pennsylvania is slated to receive $327 million each year over the next five years.

The Federal Highway Administration reports Pennsylvania has the second highest number of bridges in poor condition in the country, behind only Iowa.