Pittsburgh – The Liberty Bridge caught fire while people worked on a renovation project Friday afternoon. The bridge had to be closed along with the Liberty Tunnel, causing long traffic backups in and out the city. No one was hurt, and PennDOT warned the bridge would be closed during Labors Day weekend and maybe after Tuesday. Motorists are being detoured to the Fort Pitt Bridge.
The fire caused significant damages that weakened the massive structure to the point of a possible catastrophic failure, according to PennDOT officials. The flames affected a 30-foot beam that has to be replaced, stated Dan Cessna, executive director of the PennDOT district that covers Pittsburg. The beam is essential for the bridge, and if it collapses, the bridge will collapse as well.
PennDOT spokesman, SteveCowan, said the fire began during the renovation project. It is suspected that workers were cutting steel and using blowtorches that sent sparks flying to a construction tarp that later ignited plastic piping. No one was injured.
The fire was reported about 01:00 p.m. Friday and the Liberty Bridge, along with the Liberty Tunnel had to be close. Water traffic underneath the bridge was also halted for safety reasons. An investigation has already started.
Mr. Cessna said PennDOT would look into whether the construction tarp was supposed to be fireproof. Cessna stated he has been doing bridge repairs for 25 years, and he confessed never to have seen anything like the fire on the Liberty Bridge before.
Cessna said the area where the beam is located is small, and it is isolated. The problem is that the beam is a buckled compression member and on a deck truss like the Liberty Bridge, any member could be compromised. And if it is not changed, it could cause a catastrophic failure. Crews need to monitor the damage.
After evaluations, inspectors found the damaged beam had to be changed. After knowing the inspector’s verdict, PennDOT began monitoring the bridge for structural failures. Crews will continue to keep a watch, Post-Gazette reports.
Mr. Cowan stated PennDOT anticipated the contractor, the Joseph B. Fay Co. of Tarentum would be fully liable for costs determined by a full investigation. PennDOT said the contractor would repair the bridge after the extent of the damage is determined.
After Labor Day people living in Pittsburgh will be probably stuck in traffic
The construction project on Liberty Bridge had already reduced traffic. Still, a long line of cars formed after the fire, and now that the bridge is close, motorists have to find alternative routes, which usually causes traffic.
Officials have said the bridge and the tunnel would be closed at least through the long Labor Day weekend. But they also said the bridge would be possibly closed longer. PennDOT’s executive director stated they are working on the design as they speak to the press, and if everything goes as planned, the bridge could open on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, it will not be open before rush hour when people is returning to the city from the long weekend.
The Liberty Bridge was built in 1928, and works on the bridge are part of a two-year renovation project that began in March, the first major work on the structure since 1986. It cost $80 million, and the works include deck replacement and ramp reconstruction, structural steel repairs, painting, concrete repairs, signage improvements and installations of a new alternating overhead lane-control system, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette