The Birmingham Bridge connects East Carson Street on the South Side with Fifth and Forbes Avenues on the north shore of the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Until 1896, the South Side of Pittsburgh had one fixed crossing to the central part of the city, a private and tolled covered timber span at South Tenth Street. 2 The area, which had formerly been comprised of the Birmingham and East Birmingham boroughs, became part of the City of Pittsburgh in 1868 and rapidly grew with the development of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company mills. Elsewhere, the “Josephine” ferry boat owned by Captain Harger connected the South Side with the Soho settlement along the northern bank of the Monongahela River.
Plans had been prepared for a free bridge at 22nd Street by February 1894. 2 Bids for construction were opened in May and a contract in the amount of $399,750 was awarded in December to the Schultz Bridge & Iron Company. The Keystone Bridge Company received a subcontract for the erection of the main span, and Drake, Stratton & Company was awarded a subcontract to build the substructure.
Severe winter weather delayed the start of work that December, but work began on the north abutment in March 1895 which was finished on July 4. 2 The masonry on the river piers was completed on August 15, and the main span, which had been erected on floats moored on the river bank, was swung into position on November 24. All iron work was completed by December 6 and ornamental work and paving wrapped up by February 1, 1896.
The new Brady Street Bridge, also referred to as the South 22nd Street Bridge, was dedicated and opened on March 25. 2 It was notable for being the second river crossing owned by the city as well as the first toll-free river crossing in the area. It featured a total length of 2,530 feet, a main bowstring tied arch span length of 520 feet, two flanking modified Pratt truss spans of 260 feet, and a north viaduct approach of 837 feet and a south viaduct approach of 350 feet, both composed of plate girders and riveted lattice girders with spans of 30 to 85 feet long.
Cracks soon began to develop in the masonry and piers, and efforts to strengthen them were unsuccessful. 2 The upstream end of the north pier had settled until the superstructure had dropped 16 inches and was out of line by 11 inches. A contract was awarded to the Dravo Contracting Company in 1909 to rebuild the piers, with a subcontract let to the John Eichleay Company to raise the bridge.
Because of heavy usage from trucks and trolleys, the Brady Street Bridge was showing its age by the 1960s, and in preparation for its eventual replacement, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) acquired the bridge in 1962. 2 14 On July 5, 1963, trolley cars were prohibited from utilizing the bridge because of movements in the flooring system that were causing the tracks to become displaced. 14 A consulting engineering firm submitted a location study for a replacement crossing in 1964, and the project was put on PennDOT’s six-year capital improvement program in 1967. 2
The crossing was closed to all traffic because of structural deficiencies on September 16, 1968. 12 Just a week prior, the weight limit had been lowered from 12 to 3 tons, and all trucks and buses were banned. Repairs were undertaken by the Conn Construction Company at the cost of $435,000 4 with the Brady Street Bridge reopening to traffic under 12 tons in October 1969. 2 4
The bridge closed permanently on May 1, 1976. 8 On May 23, 1978, just six days before its demolition, emergency service workers responded to Ralph Winner Jr., an ironworker whose leg was pinned when the structure had shifted while he was cutting steel. 6 After attempting several unsuccessful rescues, a surgeon was hoisted to the site and was forced to amputate Winner’s right leg.
The circa 1896 Brady Street Bridge was detonated into the Monongahela River at 8:42 PM on May 29. 1 2 6 Railings from the sidewalk were rescued by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and utilized in the construction of the Station Square Station.
Planning for a replacement for the deteriorating Brady Street Bridge began in the early 1960s. 2 14 Highway plans at that time showed a variety of proposed expressways and freeways crisscrossing the region, including the Oakland Expressway that would have connected PA Route 28 north of Herrs Island along the Allegheny River to new suburban routes along the Monongahela River further south. 3 15
In December 1963, PennDOT let a $278,000 contract to the Buchart-Horn engineering firm of New York for the design and location determination of the new Brady Street Bridge 16 which was completed in 1964. 20 Initially, the construction of the new crossing was set to begin in 1972, but in 1967, PennDOT moved the timetable forward by three years to appease the city which had protested the timetable because of the advanced deterioration of the old bridge. 17 20
On December 20, 1968, the Dravo Corporation was awarded a $1.5 million contract to construct two river piers for the new bridge piers 200 feet downstream of the existing crossing, 18 with work beginning on March 20, 1969. 13 Further work was postponed over indecision about the future of the Oakland Expressway in light of intense opposition. 19 Specifically, PennDOT wanted the city to decide if the new Brady Street Bridge should stop at Forbes Avenue or at a major interchange over Fifth Avenue which would include ramps to Forbes and Fifth Avenues with an upgraded Kirkpatrick Street leading directly to the Terrace Village housing complex. 4 The latter option would not include a connection to Parkway East or to the Boulevard of the Allies and would cost $4 million.
The biggest obstacle to a Fifth Avenue interchange would be the forced displacement of around 800 persons. 4 21 Without the interchange, the state would continue to build the new $13 million bridge with ramps only along Forbes Avenue which would require the relocation of 150 persons.
The city was still indecisive by August 1970 when PennDOT threatened to pull $15.9 million in funding for the new bridge. 20 On April 29, 1971, the Public Utility Commission authorized construction to resume on the new Brady Street Bridge after the city and PennDOT agreed to build the crossing and have it terminate at Forbes Avenue. 22 There was an additional delay because of debate over seemingly permanent one-way traffic patterns on Fifth and Forbes Street which were instituted as an experiment in 1972, and how those arrangements would affect the northern terminus of the new crossing. 23
Work resumed with the erection of land piers for the new bridge in 1972, but no further progress was made because of contention over the architectural planning of the new structure. 24 Construction resumed on June 5, 1974, after Joseph Bucheit & Sons of Youngstown, Ohio had been awarded the construction contract with a low bid of $20.9 million. Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company was subcontracted to perform steel fabrication work while the American Bridge Company was subcontracted to perform steel erection work.
The Brady Street Bridge was slated to open in December 1976 but harsh weather delayed the completion of the structure. 8
In March 1977, the state Senate passed a bill officially changing the name of the Brady Street Bridge to the Birmingham Bridge. 9 The idea had been advanced by Senator James A. Romanelli to take historical note of Dr. Nathan Bedford, an Englishman who had been directed by the King of England via John Ormsby to plot land along the Monongahela River in 1811. After doing that, Bedford chose to name the South Side in honor of his birthplace, Birmingham, England, a coal and iron city. The bill was sent to the House for consideration and it was passed in October. 11
Six days after denying reports that cracks had been discovered on the new Brady Street Bridge, PennDOT acknowledged the discovery of hairline cracks on May 26. 7 Hairline cracks were discovered on two 3-inch × 2.5-inch plugs of steel removed from box beams under the deck involving the electro-slag welding process, a problem that similarly plagued the new Interstate 79 crossing of the Ohio River and Neville Island. 5 7 The cracks, almost invisible to the naked eye, were discovered after the steel plugs were sent to Lehigh University for investigation. 7 Of the 320 welds used on the Brady Street Bridge, 160 were electro-slag welds.
Regarding the Neville Island Bridge, the crossing was shut down just five months after opening after a tug boat captain spotted a gaping crack in one of the main girders over the backwater channel of the Ohio River. 7 More discrepancies were discovered in other electro-slag welds on the main span which prompted an inspection of the welds on the Brady Street Bridge. The welds in both the Neville Island and Brady Street crossings were performed by Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel who had fabricated the steel and performed the welding.
The problems with electro-slag welding led to a federal moratorium on any further use of electro-slag welding on any federally aided projects, with the state outlawing its use on any structure. 8 Eighty-four defective electro-slag welds were reinforced with heavy steel plates 8 at the cost of $2.14 million, 5 8 with the contractor bearing the repair costs. 7 The state Auditor General Al Benedict announced in June 1977 that an audit of the bridge’s expenses would be undertaken to ensure that taxpayer money had not been wasted and if there was any wrongdoing or negligence. 5 8
The new Birmingham Bridge was completed at the cost of $33 million and opened to traffic at 3 PM on September 2. 8 Only the two middle lanes were opened on the six-lane crossing with a weight restriction of 15 tons while steel repairs were underway. Additionally, the bridge only connected to Forbes Street and Carson Street with a permanent ramp to Fifth Avenue being delayed because of a state-ordered free on all new road and bridge construction because of a fiscal crisis. A ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the complete opening of the Birmingham Bridge was held at 3 PM on December 16. 10
Work began on April 2, 2007, on the roadway deck and barrier wall rehabilitation of the Birmingham Bridge, which was completed in November at the cost of $3 million. 25 28 On February 8, 2008, a 150-foot-long section of a girder dropped 8 inches from its rocker bearings onto a pier. 26 Crews on March 1 used 21 hydraulic jacks to raise the southbound span off the pier and onto temporary steel shoring towers which allowed one lane of travel in each direction to reopen on March 3. It was discovered that corrosion and debris from leaking bridge expansion dams caused the rocker bearings to freeze and tilt where two southbound approach spans join, also causing Pier 10 to shift slightly. 27 New bearings were installed and all lanes on the bridge reopened on September 8.
- State: Pennsylvania
- Type: Steel Arch
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 2,530 feet (1896); 1,662 feet (1976)
- Main Span Length: 520 feet (1896); 607 feet (1976)
- Spans: 837 feet, 260 feet × 2, and 350 feet (1896)
- Navigational Clearance:
- Grata, Joe. “Getting Around: Birmingham Bridge linked to controversy since opening.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 Mar. 2008.
- Van Trump, James D. “Brady Street Bridge.” Historic American Engineering Record, 1973.
- Cridlebaugh, Bruce S. “Birmingham Bridge.” pghbridges.com, 25 Dec. 2013.
- Spatter, Sam. “City Offered Brady Interchange.” Pittsburgh Press, 5 Apr. 1970, p. A2.
- “Benedict To Inspect Brady Span.” Pittsburgh Press, 8 Jun. 1977, p. A2.
- “Brady Bridge Just a Memory.” Pittsburgh Press, 30 May 1978, pp. A1-A5.
- Leherr, Dave. “Cracks Discovered in Brady St. Bridge.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 26 May 1977, pp. 1-7.
- Leherr, Dave. “Brady St. Bridge to Open Tomorrow – Partially.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1 Sept. 1977, p. 11.
- “Bridge Name Change.” Pittsburgh Press, 30 Mar. 1977, A14.
- “Brady Span Opens.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 16 Dec. 1977, p. 21.
- “How They Voted in Harrisburg.” Pittsburgh Press, 23 Oct. 1977, p. J2.
- “Brady Street Bridge Closed To All Traffic.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 17 Sept. 1968, p. 1.
- “Brady St. Pier Work To Begin.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 20 Mar. 1969, p. 19.
- “Trolleys Banned on Brady Bridge.” Pittsburgh Press, 5 Jul. 1963, p. 4.
- Verlich, Edward. “$1 Million To Fill Bridge Holes.” Pittsburgh Press, 26 Jan. 1964, p. 16.
- “Oakland, South Side To Get Bridge.” Pittsburgh Press, 11 Dec. 1963, p. 5.
- Hallow, Ralph. “‘Painless’ South Side Renewal Cheered By 500 Residents.” Pittsburgh Press, 25 Oct. 1967, p. 2.
- “Dravo Bids Low On River Piers.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 21 Dec. 1968, p. 4.
- “Indecision At The Bridge.” Pittsburgh Press, 17 Jul. 1970, p. 18.
- Hodiak, Bohdan. “City May Lose State Aid for Span.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 Aug. 1970, p. 21.
- “City Urges Brady Street Intersection.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 23 Oct. 1970, p. 10.
- “The Can Opener.” Daily Notes [Canonsburg], 30 Apr. 1971, p. 1.
- “Bridge Hopes Up.” Pittsburgh Press, 12 Sept. 1973, p. 22.
- Hritz, Thomas M. “Brady St. Bridge Work Resumes.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 Jun. 1974, p. 17.
- Grata, Joe. “‘Patience’ cautioned with Blvd. of Allies road work.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 30 Mar. 2007, pp. B1-B2.
- Schackner, Bill. “Part of Birmingham Bridge set to reopen tomorrow following repairs.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 Mar. 2008, pp. B1-B2.
- Grata, Joe. “Birmingham Bridge fully reopens Monday.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 Sept. 2008, p. B2.
- “Construction Around the Region.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 28 Oct. 2007, p. B4.