Pittsburgh bridge should have been shut down years before 2022 collapse that injured several people, NTSB says

The National Transportation Safety Board released the findings of its investigation into the 2022 collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh, ruling “critical lapses in bridge maintenance and oversight by multiple agencies” led to the disaster, and if proper oversight had been applied, the bridge would have been shut down years before the collapse.

“Although repeated maintenance and repair recommendations were documented in many inspection reports, the City of Pittsburgh failed to act on them,” the NTSB said. “… Investigators also determined Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) contractors working on behalf of the city conducted inspections that were not in compliance with guidance, failed to identify fracture-critical areas on the bridge’s legs, and did not calculate load ratings accurately.”

Several people were injured when the then snow-covered 447-foot steel frame bridge collapsed on January 28, 2022, just hours before President Joe Biden was slated to speak in Pittsburgh about infrastructure. At the time of the collapse, six vehicles were on or near the bridge when it fell, according to the NTSB.

NTSB concluded, “Had the load rating calculation correctly accounted for these factors, the result would have required closure of the bridge. Overall, the NTSB found insufficient oversight at the city, state, and federal level.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said in a statement to CNN it has been working with the NTSB throughout the investigation, “takes its oversight responsibilities seriously” and has reviewed bridges similar to Fern Hollow across the state.

“Immediately following the collapse, PennDOT conducted reviews and analyses to inform additional guidance regarding maintenance of weathering steel structures and procedures to increase the oversight of all bridges, which have been incorporated into our processes,” Alexis Campbell, PennDOT press secretary, said in a statement.

The city of Pittsburgh responded to the NTSB findings Wednesday according to affiliate, WTAE: “The office of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said the administration does not dispute the NTSB findings and noted the bridge inspections were performed by consultants. The city has created a new Bridge Maintenance Division and increased funding for bridge maintenance and repairs by 300%.”

CNN has reached out to the city of Pittsburgh for more comment.

“The Fern Hollow bridge catastrophe must serve as a wake-up call that we cannot take our infrastructure for granted,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said in a statement. “Only through diligent attention to inspection, maintenance, and repair can we ensure the roads, bridges, and tunnels we all traverse every day are safe for the traveling public. Lives depend on it.”

According to a 2023 report by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, 36% of bridges are near repair or replacement. Of states with the most bridges in poor condition, Pennsylvania was No. #2 on that list, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

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