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Pittsburgh mayor says bridges are safe to cross after NTSB findings on Fern Hollow Bridge

Mayor says Pittsburgh bridges are safe to cross
Mayor says Pittsburgh bridges are safe to cross 02:51

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The city of Pittsburgh and state of Pennsylvania missed the obvious signs and failed to close the Fern Hollow Bridge. 

Can the public be assured the rest of the city's bridges are safe? 

The day after the release of the scathing National Transportation Safety Board reports, public concern is heightened. But Mayor Ed Gainey said the city has taken the necessary steps to ensure the public's safety. 

The bridge collapsed only days into the Gainey administration, but the mayor says he's never looked back on the failures of his predecessors but has been looking forward ever since. 

"I'm not blaming nobody," Gainey said. "What should have done should have been done, but at the end of the day, it's not what happened yesterday. It's what we're doing today to make sure that this city is the safest city it can be."

The NTSB cited the city and state for a more than a decade of neglect and inaction for failing to recognize that severe corrosion of the bridge's main supports put it on the precipice of collapse. Fern Hollow had been designated in poor condition — instead of critical — which would have required it to be shut down and fixed. 

However, the NTSB report praised the current administration for taking action to prevent future disasters. The city currently has 35 bridges designated in poor condition but has established a Bridge Asset Management Program, which has re-inspected and re-evaluated each, making repairs on several and shutting down the Anderson Bridge into Schenley Park. 

"The rest of the bridges we're going over one on one," Gainey said. "The ones we find that have some type of structural deficiency, we are closing them until we can do it correctly. So, we're moving on them quite well.

The city is also re-evaluating weight limits on the bridges. Fern Hollow had a weight limit of 26 tons, which the NTSB said was too high and led to the collapse. The city says it lowered weight limits on some bridges, and the mayor says people can be assured they're safe to cross. 

"I'm proud of the progress we've made, based on where we were at," Gainey said. 

KDKA-TV reached out to former Mayor Bill Peduto, since the NTSB's criticism spanned his administrations, but did not receive a response on Thursday. 

Victims look for justice and accountability 

In the wake of the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, 10 people who were on the bridge at the time sued the city and state for negligence. 

KDKA Lead Investigator Andy Sheehan spoke with those representing the victims about their search for justice and accountability. 

Attorneys Paul Ellis and CJ Engel represent the couple Velva and Tyrone Perry, both 69 at the time, who were riding in their red pick-up truck when the bridge collapsed under them. 

Ten people were traveling on the bridge at the time. Four of them, including the Perrys, sustained physical injuries, but the attorneys say they all carry psychological and emotional scars. 

Fern Hollow Bridge finding: Victims' attorneys look for justice and accountability 02:56

"I wish I could tell you that our clients were restored as quickly as the bridge was repaired," Ellis said. "But the truth is, their injuries are severe and in many respects permanent." 

The couple has sued the city, state and the bridge inspectors for negligence, and the NTSB has in effect laid out their case, citing all involved for ignoring years of severe corrosion and deterioration, failing to close and fix the bridge while maintaining dangerous weight limits, which it said lead to the collapse. 

"It confirmed what we now see was plain as day," Engel said. "They knew about it all along and failed to do the maintenance. Failed to close down the bridge, as it should have been closed down."

Monetarily, the city is not on the hook for much. Its liability is capped at $500,000 to be divided between all successful plaintiffs, but the attorneys say they are also looking for accountability. 

"So it can restore some confidence to the people of Pittsburgh and throughout the state," Engel said. "So we know that we're safe when traveling on our infrastructure."

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