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City of Pittsburgh shuts down Oakland bridge to car traffic after it fails safety analysis

The Charles Anderson Memorial Bridge in Oakland will be shut down effective immediately.
Zoe Fuller
90.5 WESA
The Charles Anderson Memorial Bridge.

The Charles Anderson Memorial Bridge in Oakland is being closed to vehicle traffic effective immediately. Walkers and bikers will not be affected.

The City of Pittsburgh says a new analysis of the bridge makes it unsafe for traffic until repairs can be made. The project will take at least four months and cost $1 to $2 million.

The bridge is located on the western edge of Schenley Park and connects Squirrel Hill and Greenfield to Oakland and Downtown.

Mayor Ed Gainey touted the bridge closure as an example of his administration’s proactive approach to prevent bridge failures.

“It’s because of the safety systems that we have put in place over the last year that we can act immediately, and proactively, to close this bridge — preventing another Fern Hollow,” he said in a press release.

The release said that previous inspections didn’t require the 780-foot bridge to be closed but that a new “structural analysis” was performed that called into question the bridge’s safety.

Eric Setzler, the chief engineer for the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, said that an October inspection found that some of the bridge components had thinned due to corrosion. And in particular a “gusset plate” that binds the vertical steel pieces together with the horizontal pieces of the truss was no longer adequate. It took Larson Design Group, which consults with PennDOT on bridges, several months to do the structural analysis with the new inspection data.

“This is a pretty complex bridge. So it's taken them a while to get through an analysis and get a complete picture of the bridge based on that recent inspection,” Setzler said.

Setzler said that additional staff, additional funding and the help of WSP Global, a consultant that analyzed all the city’s bridges, allowed the city to respond more quickly than it might have been able to in the past.

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The repair work in the upcoming months will involve fixing the gusset plates and some additional vertical steel pieces that will allow the bridge to be safely crossed again, Setzler said.

The bridge is already slated for a full $48 million rehabilitation and the design process for the rehabilitation is already underway. The press release said the city is looking at ways to potentially speed up the process. Setzler said the current timeline was for the full rehab project to go out to bid at the end of 2025.

A study by the city last year showed that the 1938 steel bridge had been rated “poor” and was missing weight limits signs for vehicles. Both the “superstructure” and the “substructure” were rated in poor condition, while the deck was rated “fair.”

Andrea Boykowycz, interim director of the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, said she was supposed to have a meeting tomorrow with the project manager for the Anderson bridge reconstruction project and was going to ask about the timeline for the bridge’s closure. Now, she said, she will have a host of additional questions.

Boykowycz said the bridge closure will likely increase traffic along several alternative routes, including Fifth Ave. and Forbes, as well as a commuting route into and out of Oakland that splits between Hazelwood and the Hot Metal Bridge.

One of the additional spots that is likely to get additional traffic is the Swinburne Bridge, Boykowycz said, another bridge which was built in 1915 and rated poor last year. Boykowycz said there has been discussion of repair work needed on the Swinburne Bridge, too.

Boykowycz said that she first heard the Charles Anderson bridge might close in 2018. “The fatigue of the steel structure has been noted for many years at this point,” she said.

Updated: February 1, 2023 at 4:19 PM EST
This story was updated to include further information and quotes from DOMI and the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation. The story also corrected the spelling of Eric Setzler's surname.
Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.