Watch CBS News

Liberty Bridge Fire Burned To 1,200 Degrees, Contractor Taking Responsibility

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Thousands of Pittsburghers will be going back to work Tuesday morning following the long Labor Day weekend, but they'll be coming into city without the benefit of the Liberty Bridge.

The span has been closed since a fire last Friday.

Anticipating traffic delays, the Port Authority is putting a dozen additional buses in service, and also increasing "T" service. Also, Pittsburgh Public Schools will operate on a two-hour delay Tuesday because of expected traffic delays.

Shawn Wilk, who lives in the Bon Air neighborhood, said, "Traffic has been bad anyway recently because of bridge construction, but I think [Tuesday], with the bridge closed, it's going to be a lot worse."

Another South Hills driver, Joshua Horsley, told KDKA-TV's Ralph Iannotti, "It's definitely going to be difficult to get to work on Tuesday, but there's not much you can do about it, you know what I mean?"

Dan Cessna, PennDOT's District 11 Executive, said, "The day after Labor Day is typically a day when people are getting back to a normal routine; but Tuesday, I expect will be anything but normal for South Hills drivers."

Welding sparks flew last Friday afternoon, igniting an intense fire that burned to 1,200 degrees and began melting the major support beam of the Liberty Bridge, which engineers say was only minutes away from collapse.

"Fortunately, the good service from the fire bureau, getting here very quickly, immediately getting the fire extinguished resulted in that catastrophe not happening," Cessna said.

PennDOT is now working around the clock to repair it. That section of the beam is now bent and shrunken, and must be bracketed on both sides by new steel plates. The cost of all this will be born by the general contractor, JB Fay.

"With the benefit of hindsight, this operation would have been conducted in a different way to avoid that risk even existing. The reality is it happened. Our contractor is stepping up to the plate with full responsibility here," Cessna said.

Join The Conversation On The KDKA Facebook Page
Stay Up To Date, Follow KDKA On Twitter

The plates will be lifted into place by a crane and will reinforce the beam, supporting the weight of the bridge in that section and allowing the flow of traffic once again.

"The plan would be that by tomorrow the plates would be manufactured, assembly would start on Wednesday," Cessna said.

And the work will continue through the week and the weekend in anticipation of a reopening next Monday morning. But until then, traffic promises to be nightmare.

Although, PennDOT plans to reopen the Liberty Tunnel to inbound traffic to at least allow some commuters to access the South Side by McArdle Roadway.

"The main commuters who would typically cross the bridge and into the city, they will be detoured," Cessna said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools called for a two-hour delay on Tuesday due to the impact of the bridge closure. Officials say the delay will place a majority of students on the road after morning rush hour, "reducing potentially long wait times for the district's smallest students."

Some other schools are delaying their schedule as well, check the growing list on our School Delays & Closings page here.

The Port Authority is adding additional bus and rail service to commuters who use the bridge.

In a statement, the Port Authority says: "Port Authority has added limited amounts of bus and light rail service to its schedules this week to help accommodate additional riders. Riders should allow extra travel time during the week."

Officials say they will operate two additional two-car rail trains and 12 additional buses throughout the week.

According to the Port Authority, PennDOT has offered to pay for the cost of the additional service.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.