News

PennDOT: Contractor to pay for fire that damaged Liberty Bridge

PITTSBURGH — PennDOT officials said they still plan to reopen the Liberty Bridge on Monday, but they won't do so until it's absolutely safe.

Officials said they are reevaluating repairs needed every 24 hours. New fabricated bolts arrived Thursday afternoon, but larger parts -- like the replacement for the steel beam that was damaged -- are expected to arrive tomorrow.

Contractor Joseph B. Faye Co. is paying $213,000 every day that the bridge is closed. The company will also have to pay to repair the damage to the bridge. Crews are cutting and fabricating the steel in New Castle, and workers are using 3D models to create their plan.

The contractor was using the blowtorch that sparked the fire on the Liberty Bridge on Friday, officials said.  PennDOT officials previously said that the sparks lit a construction tarp on fire, which spread to plastic piping and damaged approximately 30 feet of a compression chord of the deck truss.

The fire was so intense that a 30-foot steel beam started to melt and the bridge itself was very close to giving way. It would have been a catastrophic collapse. The beam is only a small part of the 2,663 foot span, but it contributes to carrying the load of the entire bridge.

A federal investigation has been opened to investigate how the fire initially started.

Channel 11 spoke with officials from the United States Department of Labor, who said that investigators with the United States’ Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived Wednesday morning.

Officials told Channel 11 that OSHA investigators will will walk through the portions of the workplace and officers "may point out some apparent violations that can be corrected immediately."

If any violations are found, OSHA may issue citations and fines. OSHA must issue a citation and proposed penalty within six months of the violation's occurrence.

Joseph B. Faye Co. is also the primary contractor on six other PennDOT contracts, totaling $380 million. Despite the fire, the contractor will still stay on for the six contracts.

“The contractor remains in good standing and is working with us to resolve this issue,” said H. Daniel Cessna, district executive for PennDOT engineering District 11-0.

Cessna said he believes the situation could have been prevented.

"Now, you're looking at a temporary solution that is practical and quick, so we can get the bridge reopened and traffic restored in the region," said Cessna. "Every effort is focused on what an effective design could be."

Approximately 55,000 drivers rely on the Liberty Bridge each day, and Tuesday was the first time in history the nearly 90-year-old bridge has ever closed on a weekday.

The traffic delays prompted Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Wilkinsburg School District to go on a two-hour delay Tuesday. For the rest of the week, seven schools will start 25 minutes early so buses can avoid much of the traffic.

PennDOT officials said the bridge is expected to reopen once temporary repairs are complete, and the expected date for that is still on Monday.

"The reality is we only have to fix 30 feet of the bridge," Cessna said. "It's a very small area that needs a repair. It's not like replacing an entire deck on the bridge."

The inbound tunnel reopened on Tuesday morning, and the outbound Liberty Tunnel and McCardle Roadway will remain open to traffic.

Cessna said that the repairs will not cost taxpayers any money.

"This is not a textbook situation, so in developing a repair procedure is a theoretical debate regarding how to perform this work," Cessna said. "To accomplish this task, we have local engineering firms SAI and HDR and technical experts within PennDOT, industry and academia."

In an effort to help commuters avoid unnecessary headaches in the expected traffic congestion, the Port Authority added bus and light rail service and encouraging commuters to consider taking public transportation.

The posted detours are:

Northbound (Inbound)

  • Take Route 51 (Saw Mill Run Boulevard) northbound
  • Take the exit to I-376 West/U.S. 19 South toward Carnegie/Airport/West End
  • Take Exit 69A toward U.S. 19 South/Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to I-376 eastbound toward Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Follow eastbound I-376 through Fort Pitt Tunnel and across the Fort Pitt Bridge
  • For access to I-279 destinations follow I-279 signage, all other destinations take exit toward I-376 East/Monroeville
  • Take the left exit 71A to Grant Street
  • Turn left onto Grant Street
  • End detour

Southbound (Outbound) From Downtown Pittsburgh

  • Take Grant Street to I-376
  • Take the ramp to West I-376 toward Fort Pitt Bridge/Airport
  • Follow I-376 westbound across the Fort Pitt Bridge and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Take Exit 69A toward South 19 Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to eastbound I-376
  • Take Exit 69B toward South Truck U.S. 19/Route 51 Uniontown
  • Merge onto southbound Route 51 and follow back to the Liberty Tunnel
  • End detour

Southbound (Outbound) From Westbound Route 885 (Boulevard of the Allies)

  • From the Boulevard of the Allies take the ramp to North I-579 to I-279 Veterans Bridge Exit
  • Take the Convention Center/7th Avenue Exit
  • Turn right onto Grant Street
  • Turn left onto 11th Street
  • Continue straight onto the 10th Street Bypass
  • Take the I-376 West Fort Pitt Bridge/Airport Exit
  • Follow I-376 westbound across the Fort Pitt Bridge and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Take Exit 69A toward South 19 Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to eastbound I-376
  • Take Exit 69B toward South Truck U.S. 19/Route 51 Uniontown
  • Merge onto southbound Route 51 and follow back to the Liberty Tunnel
  • End detour

Southbound (Outbound) From Route 380 (Bigelow Boulevard)

  • From PA 380, take the Consol Center/6th Avenue Exit
  • Take the 6th Avenue Exit
  • Turn right onto Grant Street
  • Turn left onto 11th Street
  • Continue straight onto the 10th Street Bypass
  • Take the I-376 West Fort Pitt Bridge/Airport Exit
  • Follow I-376 westbound across the Fort Pitt Bridge and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Take Exit 69A toward South 19 Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to eastbound I-376
  • Take Exit 69B toward South Truck U.S. 19/Route 51 Uniontown
  • Merge onto southbound Route 51 and follow back to the Liberty Tunnel
  • End detour

Southbound (Outbound) From I-279 Parkway North

  • From southbound I-279, take the I-279 South Fort Pitt Bridge Exit
  • Take the South I-279/To I-376 Fort Pitt Bridge/Airport Exit
  • Take the West I-376 Fort Pitt Bridge Exit
  • Follow I-376 westbound across the Fort Pitt Bridge and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Take Exit 69A toward South 19 Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to eastbound I-376
  • Take Exit 69B toward South Truck U.S. 19/Route 51 Uniontown
  • Merge onto southbound Route 51 and follow back to the Liberty Tunnel
  • End detour

To help keep motorists informed as work progresses, PennDOT has created an email distribution list for Liberty Bridge traffic advisories and construction updates. People can enroll by sending email addresses to stcowan@pa.gov. Please write "Subscribe - Liberty Bridge" in the subject line.  Additionally, project information including driving simulations for each traffic configuration and detour route maps can be found at www.penndot.gov/libertybridge.