PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge has raised a lot of questions. Why wasn't a bridge rated in poor condition shut down? How safe are dozens of other similarly rated bridges? What's being done to prevent the next tragedy?
Elected leaders KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan spoken with share those same concerns and say they're forming a task force to identify the most seriously deficient bridges and make them safe.
"Cause that's what we're talking about here. We're not talking about anything else, but the safety of our residents," said City Councilman Corey O'Connor.
The stunning collapse of the span over Frick Park is a wake-up call to those entrusted with keeping you safe. With scores of other bridges in the city and county rated in poor or structurally-deficient condition, O'Connor will introduce legislation Tuesday to form a city-county task force to identify those in the most dire shape and prioritize their repair.
"There's no politics. It's experts giving us their opinion — structural engineers giving us their opinion — on what we need to prioritize," he said.
The move comes after KDKA's investigation shows a lack of action on the Fern Hollow Bridge, which inspectors had rated in poor condition for the past ten years.
In 2017, inspectors citing "general structure deterioration and inadequate strength" recommended a restoration project estimated at $1.5 million. That project was never funded, though the city did undertake more than $100,000 of work on the bridge in 2019 after a citizen posted a picture showing rusted-out crossbeams and exposed cables.
WATCH: Chris Hoffman reports:
"Some different types types of cables and stronger materials. Did it hold up? We don't know," said O'Connor.
While investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will search for those answers, the task force will look at other bridges rated as poor — including 27 owned by Allegheny County, 26 of which remain open to traffic while awaiting repair.
"These bridges are being inspected biannually by inspectors who are certified by the Department of Transportation. They inspect these bridges for safety," said Allegheny County Public Works Director Steven Shanley.
The county plans to repair seven of those bridges this year but maintains the others are still safe for crossing and will shut problem bridges down only when an immediate and concerning flaw is found. Kent Harries, a Pitt professor of structural engineering, agrees that the public safeguards are good but never perfect.
"We need to recognize there is no such thing as zero probability of failure. You can't have it. These things are built by failure. These things are built by humans," said Harries.
Even with more than a billion dollars coming the state's way under the infrastructure bill, there won't be enough money to fix all the poorly rated bridges and deferring maintenance spells trouble down the road.
"It's going to sneak up on us. It's not dissimilar to global climate change. We don't really tend to pay attention until it's too late," said Harries.
O'Connor is also calling for greater transparency. To that end, he wants to create a public online dashboard showing the condition of each bridge in the county and when it is slated for repair so residents can feel safe in crossing them.
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