Target 11: Fern Hollow Bridge warning signs were there going back a decade

PITTSBURGH — Officials said Monday that the deterioration on the Fern Hollow Bridge when it was checked last year was not bad enough to close the briedge. Despite that, the bridge collapsed into a ravine at Pittsburgh’s Frick Park last week.

Target 11′s Rick Earle uncovered city invoices related to work on the bridge going back five years. They reveal concerns about the Fern Hollow bridge in a November 2018 meeting between PennDOT, the city of Pittsburgh and a private bridge inspection company.

“The cross-frame bracing in Bent 1 is in danger of falling and is a safety concern. This needs to be handled immediately by removing the bracing,” a report said at the time. “PennDOT indicated review of removal of the bracing had been analyzed and should not be a structural concern. Other repairs need to be moved forward as well but were not reviewed as imminent hazards.”

It’s not clear what repairs were being mentioned at the time.

Four years earlier, in July of 2014, the bridge was posted with a maximum weight limit of 26 tons because of its poor rating.

“It looks like there were warning signs dating back 10, 12 years with this bridge. Do you think this was missed?,” Target 11′s Rick Earle asked.

“I read that today. Me and my team will talk about that, but I’m not prepared to answer that until I get the right information. The National Transportation Safety Board is working on it,” Mayor Ed Gainey said.

According to other invoices obtained by Target 11, in January of 2019, the lower cross beam was removed at a cost of $32,000.

The bridge was last inspected in September, five months ago. Sources told Target 11 that despite the poor rating, it wasn’t on the city’s radar as a trouble spot. Sources said investigators are looking into possible issues with the posted weight limit and if it was exceeded. For example, a fully loaded plow truck that regularly crosses the bridge in winter weighs 28 tons. A 60-foot-long bus, like one that was caught in the collapse, weighs about 30 tons when fully loaded.

“Do you think the weight limit wasn’t enforced?” Earle asked.

“Like I said, the NTSB will come up. You and I know that they’re handling the investigation and I’ll wait for that report,” Gainey said.

Target 11 reached out to the Port Authority for information on the weight limits and they declined to comment.