(Bloomberg) -- The bridge that collapsed in Pittsburgh Friday morning ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to the city for an infrastructure speech is one of 80 local bridges rated in poor condition in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania alone.
The Fern Hollow Bridge was last inspected September 19, 2021, according to the federal bridge inventory. Its deck and rigid frame steel superstructure were rated in poor condition, and the substructure was rated satisfactory. A poor rating does not suggest it is in imminent danger of collapsing.
The collapsed bridge was built in 1970. Pennsylvania’s bridges are 15 years older than the national average, according to a 2018 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Statewide there were 3,353 bridges in poor or worse condition last year -- 14.6% of all bridges in the state. That ranks Pennsylvania the fifth worst in the country, behind West Virginia, Iowa, Rhode Island and South Dakota, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.
The infrastructure law that Biden signed last year spends $5.5 billion on bridges, with 15% set aside for state and locally owned bridges that aren’t part of the federal system like the one that collapsed Friday.
Pennsylvania was to receive $278 million in federal bridge funding under a formula grant announced by the Federal Highway Administration on January 14. Of that, $49 million was set aside for off-system bridges.
Repairs to the bridge were not mentioned in the state’s 2021 transportation improvement plan, which identifies projects in line for federal funding. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation did not return calls on where the bridge ranked in priority for repairs.
The bridge carried an average of 14,500 vehicles a day as of 2005, 7% of which was truck traffic, according to the National Bridge Inventory data. That number was expected to grow to 18,000 by 2030.
It was posted with a maximum capacity of 26 tons.
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate the bridge collapse, it said in a tweet. The team will be led by Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy.
The bridge, which carries traffic over city park trails popular with joggers, collapsed at about 6:40 a.m., said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. There were four or 5 cars and a Port Authority bus on it when it collapsed, but no immediate indications that anyone was underneath, he said.
“Had this been a half hour or an hour later, it could have been much worse,” Fitzgerald said.
‘Hissing from a gas leak’
The bridge is a major connector to the city’s universities and hospitals. Residents nearby said they had no warning or indication the bridge could collapse.
Tracy Baton, 58, a social worker lives near the bridge and said she heard the sound of the collapse rattling through her house shortly after 6 a.m. this morning, followed by hissing from a gas leak.
She said Biden should visit the scene and assure residents it will be fixed quickly.
“He should look at my bridge. I need that bridge,” she said.
Biden is heading to the city to highlight the infrastructure law, which the White House has often said is meant to address the nation’s crumbling bridges. He is scheduled to speak at Carnegie Mellon University at Mill 19, a short drive from the site of the collapse. Biden was born in Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state that helped deliver his 2020 election victory.
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, a Democrat who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, lives 10 minutes from the bridge and drove over it just hours before the collapse.
“This bridge is A to Z why we need infrastructure improvements,” he told Bloomberg News in an interview as he surveyed the scene. He said the bridge should now move to the top of the state’s list for replacement using new federal bridge funds from the recently passed bridge funds. “I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t,” Fetterman said.
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