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After 2 Years, A Fire And Traffic Headaches, Work On The Liberty Bridge Is Done

Gene J. Puskar
Rush hour traffic clogs the Liberty Bridge on Friday, Aug. 3, 2007.

Drivers will no longer have to endure traffic headaches associated with the Liberty Bridge rehabilitation project, now that the 2-and-a-half-year-long project has wrapped up. 

Work first started in April 2016, and it was the biggest project for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation since the Fort Pitt Bridge was rehabbed back in the early 2000s, according to PennDot District 11 Executive Cheryl Moon Sirianni.

Among the most noticeable improvements to the span is a new bridge deck.

“It has a new latex overlay on it, and so it is nice and smooth and will last for many years to come,” Moon Sirianni said.

The bridge, which is more than 90 years old, got a fresh coat of paint and also underwent structural steel repairs as well as ramp upgrades, new signage and an improved overhead lane control system, she said.

District 11 Assistant Executive Jason Zang said the bridge’s age and complex design posed a challenge.

“It’s a steel deck truss bridge with a lot of pieces that make it work, and anytime you open up a bridge of this nature it’s almost like remodeling your house,” Zang said.

“You don’t know what you’re gonna find sometimes until you get inside of things,” he said.

A near catastrophic fire damaged the bridge in September 2016. Zang said the blaze started when a worker was using a torch to cut steel, and a molten piece of that steel ignited plastic piping.

Credit Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Smoke plumes from the Liberty Bridge after it caught fire during rehabilitation work in 2016.

The fire, which damaged a load carrying steel truss almost resulted in the loss of the entire bridge, and repairing it was a painstaking effort.

“One of the most complex jacking procedures was put into place with experts from around the country to save the bridge,” Zang noted.

“We basically restored the bridge to its original condition, and the bridge had to be closed while that was going on because it was a very structurally precarious situation,” he added.

The bridge was closed during repairs for about a month. Zang said to make up for that lost time, contractor Joseph B. Fay Co. accelerated its work the following season, in 2017, by adding crews who worked additional shifts and overnights.

The entire cost of the repairs exceeded $5 million, which was covered by the contractor and its insurer, as were the costs associated with engineering and consulting work, he said.

Despite the setback, the project’s final cost will come in around $82 million, according to PennDOT, slightly more than the $80.5 million initial price tag.

Approximately 55,000 drivers use the Liberty Bridge each day.