Pittsburgh bridge collapses hours before Biden visit to discuss infrastructure

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A snow-covered bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed Friday morning, just hours before President Joe Biden was expected to visit the city on a previously scheduled trip to discuss infrastructure.

Pittsburgh bridge collapses hours before Biden visit to discuss infrastructure
© courtesy Jeremy Habowski Vehicles are seen at the bottom of a bridge in Pittsburgh that gave way on January 28.

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No fatalities have been reported, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said in a news conference at the scene in the area of Forbes and Braddock avenues.

There had been 10 “minor injuries,” Fire Chief Darryl Jones said, and three people were transported from the scene. None of the injuries were life-threatening, he said.

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Four vehicles were on the bridge when it fell, Jones said. Teams are still performing reconnaissance to ensure no one was under the bridge when it collapsed, he said.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation, he said. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a “go team” to the collapse, with an estimated arrival of Friday afternoon.

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First responders used ropes to rappel down to get to the victims, Jones said. Crews also used what he called a “daisy chain” where they linked hands to reach the victims and pull them out.

In an interview with CNN, Pittsburgh City Councilmember Corey O’Connor said it was fortunate that the collapse didn’t happen later in the morning, when there likely would have been far more traffic on the bridge.

“If this would have occurred an hour later, this is a road that gets probably about 15,000 cars on it a day, and if it was rush hour, we would be looking at a couple hundred cars down in that valley,” he said. “We got very, very lucky today, and hopefully those individuals at the hospital recover quickly and they’re home safe in the next couple days.”

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The Allegheny County Police Department was notified about a partial bridge collapse sometime after 6 a.m. on Friday, according to Amie Downs, a spokesperson for the county.

Only minor injuries have been reported, including the driver of an articulated bus and two passengers, Downs said.

The collapse also caused a natural gas line in the area to break, Downs said, but that line has since been turned off. There are some reports of people feeling ill in the area from natural gas, Downs said, and those individuals are being treated on the scene.

Pittsburgh bridge collapses hours before Biden visit to discuss infrastructure
© Ed Gainey/Pittsburgh Mayor’s Office The bridge collapse in Pittsburgh Friday is seen from the air.

Peoples Gas spokesperson Barry Kukovich confirmed the company had a gas distribution line on the bridge that collapsed. “It goes under the roadway and then it goes under the bridge,” he said.

There is no evidence at this time that there was a gas explosion prior to the collapse, Kukovich said. He described the gas line as a distribution line but said it was not a high pressure gas line.

Peoples Gas crews are on the scene assessing the situation, Kukovich said, and nearby customers are experiencing “minimal service interruptions.”

Pittsburgh bridge collapses hours before Biden visit to discuss infrastructure
© Gene J. Puskar/AP Vehicles that were on a Pittsburgh bridge when it collapsed are seen Friday morning.

Biden is aware of the collapse, the White House said in a statement, and plans to proceed with his trip.

“The President is grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time,” the statement reads.

Bridge is a ‘vital artery’ for the area, official says

In an interview on CNN’s “New Day,” Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman called the bridge a “vital artery” in the Pittsburgh area. The bridge crosses Frick Park, one of the city’s largest parks.

“Thankfully, schools were on a two-hour delay for weather,” he said, “so the traffic was less than it would have been normally on a normal day, but it’s surreal to see this bridge.”

Asked about the collapse coming the same day of the President’s visit, Fetterman, a Democrat, said, “This is a horrible way to underscore just how critical our infrastructure needs are in this country.”

Jeremy Habowski told CNN he feels lucky to be alive after surviving the collapse. He and other drivers were unable to stop in time after the bridge gave way, he said.

“The scariest part was definitely going over the edge because there was a gap and my car left the ground,” he told CNN. His car and others are now sitting on top of what remains of the bridge.

Pittsburgh bridge collapses hours before Biden visit to discuss infrastructure
© Gene J. Puskar/AP A Pittsburgh Port Authority bus that was on a bridge when it collapsed Friday, January 28, 2022, is visible in the city’s East End.

Once things settled, Habowski checked on another driver, he said. Then he climbed up the hill to try and stop other drivers from driving into the debris.

“It was a lot to take in,” he told CNN.

Greg Barnhisel lives about a quarter-mile from where the bridge collapse, so he and his wife went to see it on foot, he told CNN.

“We didn’t hear it collapse,” he said. “When we got to the site of the collapse, the roaring sound and the smell of the broken gas line were overwhelming.”

Another nearby resident, Wendy Stroh, told CNN affiliate KDKA that she heard the collapse, but thought it sounded like “a huge snow plow pushing along a raw tarmac surface with no snow.”

“It’s very frightening,” she said. “My goodness, all these ambulances and fire trucks and what not. Just the thought of the bridge collapsing is a very scary prospect. I cross that bridge all the time.”

Bridge received overall ‘poor’ rating, per state DOT

In Friday morning’s news conference, Mayor Gainey said the bridge had last been inspected in September 2021.

In an interview with CNN, Jones, the fire chief, said the bridge was not a concern to officials prior to the collapse. The city’s bridges are routinely inspected, he said, and “if there was any warning or concern, we would have been notified and we would have made sure that we didn’t use this route.”

“So this one caught everybody by surprise this morning,” he said.

However, while the fire chief said the bridge had not been a concern for city officials, it had received an “overall condition” rating of “poor,” according to the web site for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which tracks bridges across the state.

The 447-foot bridge was built in 1970 and composed of a steel rigid frame, according to the website.

The PennDOT website says the condition of the deck, or road surface, was rated “4 – Poor,” as was the superstructure condition. The substructure condition was rated “6 – Satisfactory.”

According to PennDOT, a bridge’s condition “is determined by the lowest condition rating of the primary components of a bridge or culvert.”

“If the lowest rating is greater than or equal to 7, the bridge is classified as Good; if it is less than or equal to 4, the classification is Poor. Bridges rated 5 or 6 are classified as Fair,” the website explains.

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