Dereliction of Duty

Feb. 1, 2024
Pittsburgh could have prevented a bridge collapse

A report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that a lack of maintenance led to clogged drains on the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh’s east end.

Corrosion, stemming from the clogged drains, contributed to the bridge’s collapse on the morning of Jan. 28, 2022.

As a Pittsburgher born and raised, I knew this national story would eventually reach the stage where we discovered that city officials had failed.

In the NTSB report, it was revealed that a consultant who led multiple inspections of Fern Hollow Bridge had told Pittsburgh officials that debris needed to be cleared from drains.

Tim Pintar, who oversaw inspections for CDM Smith, said that Pittsburgh had clogged scuppers and downspouts on most of its bridges. He called this the number one problem on the city’s bridges, according to WTAE.

“And I tried to preach that the whole time, and nothing ever got done,” he said.

Pittsburgh is nicknamed the “City of Bridges” because it has 446 of them. This city should be a national leader in bridge maintenance.

This is disgraceful.

I live in the east end of Pittsburgh, and I often take Bob, my border collie-mix, to Frick Park, which is underneath the Fern Hollow Bridge.

To the untrained eye, the bridge did not look like it was in good shape. This news is infuriating.

There were 10 people on the bridge when it collapsed. They fell 100 feet into a snowy ravine, and, despite some injuries, they all lived. Can you imagine driving in your car one second and falling 100 feet the next? It’s horrifying.

Some of the collapse survivors have sued the city, and I hope they get as much money as the court allows. Their ordeal was preventable, and it happened because the city was neglectful.

After the NTSB report was released, city officials admitted that it did not ask its maintenance contractor to clean expansion joints or drainage systems on Fern Hollow Bridge in the three years leading up to its collapse.

Three years? That’s insane, and it falls on former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and city council members.

In the NTSB report, officials from Pittsburgh’s department of mobility and infrastructure said the city lacked the in-house capabilities to clean expansion joints and the storm water drainage system.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) released documents proving that it had scolded the city for dragging its feet on Fern Hollow Bridge repairs in 2014.

Eight years before the collapse!

I love PennDOT, but eight years is a long time to not inform the public.

This fallout does not seem to be over, and other bridge owners need to learn from this: invest in maintenance and make repairs. Infrastructure is life and death, and you won’t be as lucky as Pittsburgh.