The Fort Pitt Bridge In Pittsburgh
The Fort Pitt Bridge, an engineering marvel and an icon of Pittsburgh, has a rich history that dates back to the mid-20th century. This double-decked steel bowstring arch bridge, spanning the Monongahela River, symbolizes Pittsburgh’s advancement in the realms of infrastructure and city planning.
The Conception and Early Plans of the Fort Pitt Bridge
The Need for a New Bridge
The idea of constructing another bridge across the Monongahela River was first proposed in 1924. The rapid development and population growth in the South Hills of Pittsburgh necessitated an improved road network. Despite the significant improvements brought about by the construction of Saw Mill Run Boulevard and Banksville Road, the traffic congestion around Mount Washington was a major concern.
The Fort Duquesne Tunnels and Bridge Proposal
Design proposals for twin tubes, 3,750 feet in length, through Mount Washington, and a companion bridge slightly upriver from the existing Point Bridge were put forward. This project, known as the Fort Duquesne Tunnels and Bridge, was estimated to cost $8 million. However, the project was delayed due to the lack of available funding and the onset of World War II.
The Renaissance of Pittsburgh and the New City Gateway
The Rebirth of the City
In the late 1940s, the tunnel and bridge proposals were revisited as part of Pittsburgh’s Renaissance I initiative. This plan aimed to modernize Pittsburgh and establish it as a new gateway city, following the blueprint of the “Moses Plan” proposed by Robert Moses in 1939.
The Fort Pitt Bridge: A New Name and a New Role
The tunnel and bridge were envisioned as the linchpins that would link the two ends of Pennsylvania’s new interstate highway, the Penn-Lincoln Parkway. They were also designed to provide a direct connection to the city’s North Shore. The southern tunnel and bridge took on the name Fort Pitt, while the sister bridge to the North Shore was christened Fort Duquesne.
The Design and Construction Phase
The Trolley Track Debate
The construction phase of the Bridge faced a significant hurdle due to a debate over whether to include trolley tracks in the design. The Pittsburgh Railways Company insisted that omitting the tracks would dismantle their West End trolley system. However, city and state planners argued that the inclusion of tracks would jeopardize their vision of a high-speed highway system in and through Pittsburgh. The issue was finally resolved in January 1956 when the Pennsylvania State Superior Court upheld the State Public Utilities Commission’s decision to exclude the tracks from the design.
The World’s First Computer-Designed Bridge
Designed by engineer George S. Richardson, the Fort Pitt Bridge was a trailblazer in the world of bridge engineering. It was the world’s first computer-designed tied arch bridge. The groundbreaking design process began with preliminary test boring for the piers in January 1953, and actual construction of the bridge commenced in January 1956.
The Construction Journey (1954-1959)
The construction of the Fort Pitt Bridge was a colossal task that spanned over half a decade. The process involved various stages, from the initial site preparation to the final stages of assembly.
The Grand Opening of the Fort Pitt Bridge
On June 19, 1959, the Fort Pitt Bridge was finally opened to the public. The inauguration of the bridge was marked with speeches, fanfare, and celebrations. The Governor of Pennsylvania, David L. Lawrence, described the occasion as a “high spot in Pittsburgh’s observance of its 200th birthday.”
The Structural Marvel: Fort Pitt Bridge
Featuring a length of 1,207 feet and a height of 47.1 feet at the northern pier, the Fort Pitt Bridge is a structural marvel. The bridge consists of two 52-foot roadways, the upper for eastbound and the lower for westbound traffic. The bridge structure contains 8,066 tons of steel, 4,950 tons of structural alloy steel, 1,305 tons of steel reinforcing rods, and 2,706 tons of structural carbon steel.
The Vital Link in the Penn-Lincoln Parkway
The Bridge played a pivotal role in linking the city with the Penn-Lincoln Parkway, Boulevard of the Allies, and Liberty Avenue, long before the accompanying Fort Pitt Tunnels were completed. This connection transformed Pittsburgh into a more accessible area for commuters and facilitated the development of the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area.
The Aztec Gold Transformation
Originally painted gray, the Bridge underwent a significant transformation between 1978 and 1981. The bridge, along with the Fort Duquesne and West End Bridges, was repainted in Aztec Gold. This color change added a new visual element to Pittsburgh, the City of Bridges.
The Eleven-Year Rehabilitation
Beginning in 1993, the Fort Pitt Bridge underwent an extensive eleven-year rehabilitation process. This $200 million project involved replacing the granite and metal facades on the tunnel portals and a complete renovation of the bridge and associated ramps.
The Fort Pitt Bridge in Popular Culture
The Bridge has also found its place in popular culture, featuring in films like “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Striking Distance,” and “Abduction.” It has also been used as a landmark in the video game “The Last of Us.”
Today, the Fort Pitt Bridge stands as a testament to Pittsburgh’s engineering prowess and its commitment to progress, serving over 150,000 vehicles per day and providing a stunning entrance to the city.