Liberty Bridge Was ‘Minutes From Collapse’ During Fire, Repair Timeline Announced

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Most people focused on the black smoke the filled the sky Friday afternoon – when the Liberty Bridge went up in smoke. Now comes word, the bridge may have been minutes away from a total collapse.

“If we didn’t, Pittsburgh Fire Bureau didn’t get there as fast as they did, and get it out, we were minutes,” said PennDOT engineer Lou Ruzzi.

The fire started when sparks from a blow torch ignited plastic pipes that were on the bridge. The flames then spread to a tarp on the structure that was undergoing renovation work. The temperature exceeded 1200 degrees causing a major member or beam on the bridge to buckle.

“The fire caused it to look like an S,” Ruzzi said.

All of this means – for the first time in it’s history – the Liberty Bridge will be closed in both directions until mid September, while a temporary fix takes place.

“The goal is to have the bridge complete and open by Monday morning, September 12th. The bridge cannot be reopened until this repair is completed,” PennDOT District 11 Executive Dan Cessna said.

Crews will work 12 hours shifts until then – and the contractor responsible for the fire will be footing the cost. What will affect people in this area the most is the shutting down a bridge where more than 50,000 cars pass over every day.

“We really want to stress to motorists to plan ahead, because we really can’t assess that impact. It’s difficult to understand what motorist will seek a different route, or who will seek public transportation,” Cessna said.

And what many of those drivers didn’t realize is just how close they came to losing the bridge altogether.

“We knew at the time we had to get traffic off of the bridge. Once we saw what it looked like, we had to get the traffic off,” Ruzzi said.

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PennDOT’s recommended detours, in the meantime:

Northbound (Inbound)

  • Take Route 51 (Saw Mill Run Boulevard) northbound
  • Take the exit to I-376 West/US 19 South toward Carnegie/Airport/West End
  • Take Exit 69A toward US 19 South/Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to I-376 eastbound toward Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Follow eastbound I-376 through Fort Pitt Tunnel and across the Fort Pitt Bridge
  • For access to I-279 destinations follow I-279 signage, all other destinations take exit toward I-376 East/Monroeville
  • Take the left exit 71A to Grant Street
  • Turn left onto Grant Street
  • End detour

Southbound (Outbound) From Downtown Pittsburgh

  • Take Grant Street to I-376
  • Take the ramp to West I-376 toward Fort Pitt Bridge/Airport
  • Follow I-376 westbound across the Fort Pitt Bridge and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Take Exit 69A toward South 19 Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to eastbound I-376
  • Take Exit 69B toward South Truck US 19/Route 51 Uniontown
  • Merge onto southbound Route 51 and follow back to the Liberty Tunnel
  • End detour

Southbound (Outbound) From Westbound Route 885 (Boulevard of the Allies)

  • From the Boulevard of the Allies take the ramp to North I-579 to I-279 Veterans Bridge Exit
  • Take the Convention Center/7th Avenue Exit
  • Turn right onto Grant Street
  • Turn left onto 11th Street
  • Continue straight onto the 10th Street Bypass
  • Take the I-376 West Fort Pitt Bridge/Airport Exit
  • Follow I-376 westbound across the Fort Pitt Bridge and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Take Exit 69A toward South 19 Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to eastbound I-376
  • Take Exit 69B toward South Truck US 19/Route 51 Uniontown
  • Merge onto southbound Route 51 and follow back to the Liberty Tunnel
  • End detour

Southbound (Outbound) From Route 380 (Bigelow Boulevard)

  • From PA 380, take the Consol Center/6th Avenue Exit
  • Take the 6th Avenue Exit
  • Turn right onto Grant Street
  • Turn left onto 11th Street
  • Continue straight onto the 10th Street Bypass
  • Take the I-376 West Fort Pitt Bridge/Airport Exit
  • Follow I-376 westbound across the Fort Pitt Bridge and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Take Exit 69A toward South 19 Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to eastbound I-376
  • Take Exit 69B toward South Truck US 19/Route 51 Uniontown
  • Merge onto southbound Route 51 and follow back to the Liberty Tunnel
  • End detour

Southbound (Outbound) From I-279 Parkway North

  • From southbound I-279, take the I-279 South Fort Pitt Bridge Exit
  • Take the South I-279/To I-376 Fort Pitt Bridge/Airport Exit
  • Take the West I-376 Fort Pitt Bridge Exit
  • Follow I-376 westbound across the Fort Pitt Bridge and through the Fort Pitt Tunnel
  • Take Exit 69A toward South 19 Banksville Road
  • Keep left and loop back to eastbound I-376
  • Take Exit 69B toward South Truck US 19/Route 51 Uniontown
  • Merge onto southbound Route 51 and follow back to the Liberty Tunnel
  • End detour
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