This Week in Pittsburgh History: “Bridge to Nowhere” Finally Opens
Although the bridge over the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh's North Side was completed in five years, it was unusable for another six.
After spending most of the preceding decade as a punchline, Pittsburgh’s unfinished “Bridge to Nowhere” finally opened on Oct. 16, 1969. Construction of the span had begun in 1958; it earned its infamous nickname because the main portion of the bridge was completed in 1963, but the throughway was useless for another six years because of delays acquiring rights of way for the northern approach ramps.
On Dec. 12, 1964, Frederick Williams, a 21-year-old chemistry major at the University of Pittsburgh, drove his aunt’s station wagon past the bridge’s wooden barricades, raced off the end of the bridge, and landed upside-down, but unhurt, on the other side, 190 feet away at the north bank of the Allegheny River.
He called a cab from a phone booth nearby and requested a ride to Allegheny General Hospital, where he was treated and released.
But what precipitated the accident?
As Mark Houser reported in 2019, Williams wouldn’t say. Even with family, he was fuzzy about the details. “For some,” Houser wrote, “his vague claim that he got lost on a foggy night and thought he was on the Parkway East seemed to conflict with police reports that he had crashed through the barriers at both ends at a ‘tremendous rate of speed.’
“Further investigation revealed that the sawhorses and cable blocking the entrance ramp had not been crashed through but moved aside. Officials quickly replaced them with bigger, brighter blockades.”
But who would do such a thing? One theory was that daring young lovers used the always empty bridge as a scenic and isolated place to park and forgot to put the barriers back in the afterglow of their amorous activities.
Learn more about the city’s past at The Odd, Mysterious & Fascinating History of Pittsburgh’s Facebook page.