The Fern Hollow Bridge, which takes Forbes Avenue across a ravine in one of the city’s biggest parks, Frick Park, east of downtown Pittsburgh, collapsed just before 7:00am; the situation could have been a lot worse if it had happened slightly later in the morning during rush hour. A two-hour delay for city schools due to snowfall meant that fewer cars were on the bridge than usual at that hour.
Pittsburgh City Councilmember Corey O’Connor said: "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 stated.
According to The Associated Press, rescuers created a human chain to help pull multiple people out of a dangling bus, while others rappelled up to 150 feet to try to help in the rescue effort. Three people were transported from the scene of the incident, but none of the injuries were believed to be life-threatening. The leaking gas line was turned off after reports of people in the area becoming ill.
The 497-foot steel bridge, which dates back to 1973 and carried around 14,000 vehicles a day, was hailed as one of the best new bridges in the country by the American Institute of Steel Construction when it was built for $1.2 million to replace a 70-year-old bridge that had been deemed hazardous.
The bridge has undergone multiple inspections over the years, and records show that the bridge was consistently found to be in bad shape from 2011 to 2017, with the needed repairs estimated to cost somewhere around $1.5 million. According to Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, the last time the bridge was inspected was in September, when it was found to be in poor condition.
Pittsburgh, which sits at the point where three major rivers meet, is believed to be one of the cities with the most bridges in the world. However, the state of Pennsylvania’s highway infrastructure has long ranked near the bottom of the nation when it comes to the condition of its highways. Potholes and washboard pavement are prevalent across highways in the state, and residents regularly complain about the condition of the roads and bridges there.
Biden’s visit was reportedly geared toward championing his bipartisan infrastructure law, which the White House said has been strengthening critical infrastructure such as bridges, roads, airports and ports. Once he arrived in the city, Biden promised to fix all of Pittsburgh’s bridges, which total more than 400.
The president, who visited the collapse site on Friday afternoon as part of his trip, said: "I've been coming to Pittsburgh a long time, and as a former Pennsylvanian ... I didn't realize that there are literally more bridges in Pittsburgh than in any other city in the world. We're going to fix them all."
He added that there are 43,000 bridges across the country in poor condition.
In the aftermath of the collapse, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf was quick to call out Republican lawmakers who voted against the bill, saying: "Shame on the Republican lawmakers who didn't support the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Pennsylvanian lives are on the line.”
Not surprisingly, he failed to condemn House Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, who also voted against the infrastructure bill.
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