The Fort Duquesne Bridge in Pittsburgh
From its early conception to its contemporary status, the Fort Duquesne Bridge has been a significant architectural marvel and a symbol of Pittsburgh’s resilience and innovation. The saga of this bridge is filled with numerous unprecedented events, earned nicknames, and notable milestones.
The Fort Duquesne Bridge, a double-decked bowstring arch bridge, spans the Allegheny River, connecting Pittsburgh’s downtown to its North Shore. This steel structure has witnessed and undergone several changes since its inception in the late 1950s. It is more than just an architectural wonder; it is a testament to Pittsburgh’s historical progression and the city’s undying spirit.
The Precursor Bridges
Before the birth of the Fort Duquesne Bridge, two other bridges connected Pittsburgh’s downtown to the North Side. The first was the Union Bridge, a covered Burr arch truss bridge, completed in 1875. However, due to its low vertical clearance, it was considered a major obstacle to river traffic. As a result, it was replaced by the Manchester Bridge, a Pratt through truss structure, constructed between 1911-1915, and opened on August 8, 1915. However, the Manchester Bridge couldn’t withstand the test of time and was closed to traffic on October 17, 1969, the very day its successor, the Fort Duquesne Bridge, was opened.
The Birth of the Fort Duquesne Bridge
The construction of the Fort Duquesne Bridge began in October 1958. It was part of Pittsburgh’s Renaissance I initiative, aiming to link the proposed Penn-Lincoln Parkway to the North Shore. The Dravo Corporation completed the construction of piers and two concrete retaining walls by August 1959, four months ahead of schedule. The American Bridge Company began work on the superstructure in May 1960, and by 1963, the main span and south approach were completed.
The Bridge to Nowhere
Ironically, the Fort Duquesne Bridge earned the nickname “The Bridge to Nowhere” because the northern approach ramps, which were to connect to the North Shore Expressway, couldn’t be built due to delays in acquiring the right-of-way. This situation led to a peculiar scenario where the bridge ended abruptly in midair, rendering it useless.
The Leap of Faith
The incomplete bridge didn’t deter some daredevils from testing their limits. On December 12, 1964, a University of Pittsburgh student named Frederick Williams drove his 1959 Chrysler station wagon through the bridge’s wooden barricades, raced off the end of the bridge, and landed upside down but unhurt on the other side, 190 feet away. This incident led to the city barricading the bridge with concrete barriers for safety.
The Bridge Finally Connects
After years of waiting, the Fort Duquesne Bridge finally opened to traffic on October 17, 1969. The bridge connected with the northwest ramps leading to the PA Route 65. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the northeastern ramps were completed, allowing access to PA Route 28 and the northern section of Interstate 279. This delay was due to the prolonged process of acquiring the right-of-way for the North Shore Expressway.
The Bridge Today
Today, the Fort Duquesne Bridge stands as a significant landmark in Pittsburgh, along with the Fort Pitt Bridge, touching down halfway between Acrisure Stadium and PNC Park on the city’s North Shore. It is a vital artery of transportation, carrying Interstate 279 over the Allegheny River.
Significance and Impact
This Bridge is more than just a physical bridge; it’s a symbol of Pittsburgh’s resilience, adaptability, and progress. From its initial days as a bridge to nowhere to its current status as a crucial transportation hub, this structure has borne witness to the city’s evolution and growth.
The story of the Fort Duquesne Bridge is a vivid reminder of the challenges and triumphs embedded in the fabric of Pittsburgh’s history. The bridge, with its unique past and vital role in the city’s transportation infrastructure, continues to stand as a testament to the city’s resilience and innovation.