10 People Escape Serious Injury in Forbes Avenue Bridge Collapse
The bridge carrying Forbes Avenue over Fern Hollow Creek gave way an hour before sunrise, sending a Port Authority bus and several other vehicles into the ravine below.
This story was updated at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 28.
Hours before President Joe Biden was to arrive in Pittsburgh to discuss infrastructure issues, the bridge that carried Forbes Avenue over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park collapsed.
Ten people suffered non-life-threatening injuries when a Port Authority bus and several vehicles were sent to the bottom of the ravine.
Late Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf approved a disaster declaration for Allegheny County in order to speed up the bridge’s replacement without being slowed by the usual bidding and contract procedures.
“With the Fern Hollow Bridge seeing more than 14,000 cars daily, it’s critical that we act quickly to reconstruct it so that commerce can continue, and life is not interrupted,” Wolf said. “This declaration allows us to support the county in getting to work quickly, making funding available, and reducing red tape or other barriers to completion.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald estimated it could take at least a year to replace the span.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the collapse, a process it says could take 12 to 18 months.
The bridge collapsed shortly before 6:45 a.m. Virginia Linn, editor of Pittsburgh Magazine, was walking her dog in front of the Environmental Charter School on Henrietta Street in Regent Square when she heard a horrific crash.
“It sounded like either a small plane crashing into Frick Park or the bridge collapsing. I could see the traffic on Forbes Avenue and the brake lights going on,” she says. “The cars were bunching up so I figured it must have been the bridge. That’s a bridge I drive on every day.”
Photos from the collapse show multiple vehicles that had fallen into the hole left by the downed bridge, with a Port Authority bus left suspended over the edge. The Associated Press reported that a number of people formed “a human chain” to help rescue riders from the dangling bus.
Three people were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones. A fourth person, one of two passengers on the bus, was taken to the hospital two hours after the crash. All four were reported in fair condition, according to UPMC.
President Biden’s visit to Pittsburgh was supposed to begin at Mill 19 in Hazelwood but instead started at the site of the bridge collapse, where he met with Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, Gov. Tom Wolf and other state and local leaders.
Biden also spoke with law enforcement officers saying, “These guys deserve an incredible amount of credit.”
“I’ve been coming to Pittsburgh a long time,” the President said, noting that there are more bridges here than any other city in the world.
“And we’re going to fix them all.”
A picture on Twitter, taken in 2018, according to KDKA-TV, suggests the bridge had been in bad shape.
This was from 4 years ago! Bridge Collapse https://t.co/YVR7tR6nyS
— Ian Smith (@ismithKDKA) January 28, 2022
The originator of that tweet, Greg Kochanski, a software engineer, told the Post-Gazette that he noticed the detached beam was later removed, and “after that I kind of figured it was taken care of and I gradually forgot about it.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said the bridge was last inspected in September 2021. City Councilman Corey O’Connor, whose district includes the bridge, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that work was last done on the bridge two years ago, which included the replacement of steel beams under the expanse with a type of bungee cord that held everything together. The bridge was also repaved at that time, he said.
According to PennDOT, the bridge is owned by the city of Pittsburgh and was built in 1970. Its most recent inspection report rated both its deck and superstructure as “poor.” Its three spans are constructed on a steel ridge frame. The bridge is 447 feet long with a deck area of 26,608 square feet. The weight limit is 26 tons.
The bridge is among 80 in Allegheny County currently rated as in “poor” condition, according to PennDOT.