The Fern Hollow Redemption

Feb. 2, 2023
The Pittsburgh bridge reopened less than a year after it collapsed

There are a lot of people who deserve to take a victory lap for my new favorite bridge.

The old Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed on the morning of January 28, 2022, and before the ball dropped in Times Square to ring in 2023, the new bridge opened to the public.

Motorists and businesses felt the impact of life without the bridge on Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh’s East End. The increased congestion annoyed yours truly, a resident of this corner of the city. 

However, our pain was short-lived thanks to a declaration of disaster emergency proclamations made my Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. 

The proclamations allowed the city to enter into a legal agreement that gave the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) permission to manage the design and construction of the new Fern Hollow Bridge.

PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration contracted Swank Construction Company and HDR to remove the collapsed bridge, as well as design and construct its replacement.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allowed PennDOT to dedicate $25.3 million in federal funds to the project without impacting other critical regional needs.

We reported on the collapse last year, and we will run an in-depth feature story on the construction of the new bridge in our bridge issue later this year.

However, I couldn’t wait to congratulate everyone involved in this project. It’s a beautiful bridge, and the speed in which they worked is remarkable.

This is where someone says, “That’s how fast everyone in road and bridge construction can work when the government removes all its hurdles.” And to that I say: Touché.

Multiple design phases occurred simultaneously, including foundation, substructure, utility relocation, superstructure, and environmental. Thus, project delivery was expedited by multiple years.

But that’s a column for another time. We’re here to high-five PennDOT, Swank Construction, and HDR.

When the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed, it became national news because President Biden was scheduled to visit Pittsburgh that day to talk about the bipartisan infrastructure law.

So, everyone involved must have felt pressure to get the job done.

Substructure, superstructure, and concrete deck placement work has been completed. Bridge barrier installation, pedestrian railing, and line painting are finished, as well. The bridge has a single lane of bi-directional traffic while work continues.

Bridge deck overlay and wingwall work will occur this spring 

Hopefully the Tranquil Trail reopens soon, as well. The Fern Hollow Bridge runs over Frick Park and that trail, as well as a creak, cuts underneath the structure.

The hot dog dam, a small dog park that sits almost directly under the bridge, has not reopened, either.

Bob, my talented border collie-mix, and I are eagerly waiting for that trail and the hot dog dam to be reopened. If the governor and mayor were cool, they’d have a ribbon-cutting ceremony for them, like they did on the bridge deck in December.

I mean, give the people what they want. . . . (I’m people.) 

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