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Sixteenth Street Bridge

Sixteenth Street Bridge

The Sixteenth Street Bridge is a steel through arch structure that carries Sixteenth Street over the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


The Northern Liberties Bridge, a covered Burr arch truss structure, was constructed in 1840 to connect the Northern Liberties borough (which became the Fifth Ward of Pittsburgh in 1837) and the Allegheny borough (which later became the North Side) across the Allegheny River. 3 7 It featured four truss spans each 213 feet long, and one truss span of 40 feet with a total length of 900 feet. 7 The bridge was rebuilt in 1866.

In 1868, Pittsburgh annexed the East End and renamed city streets, preferring numbered sequences over names of founders or landmarks, and the Northern Liberties Bridge became more simply the Sixteenth Street Bridge. 2 7 The bridge was acquired by the county for $239,875 in March 1911, and simply designated “Allegheny County Bridge No. 5.” 7

For years, the Spring Garden and upper Allegheny Pittsburgh Railways streetcar lines operated over the Sixteenth Street Bridge, but an inspection in 1903 found the structure unsafe for heavy streetcar vehicles. 3 Since then, the crossing was regulated for wagon, truck, and passenger traffic.

The last of its kind in the city, the Sixteenth Street Bridge was destroyed by fire on the morning of April 23, 1918. 3 Within five minutes after an alarm had been sounded, the fire had consumed much of the structure. When what was left of the bridge was torn down, the United States Army Corps of Engineers removed the stone piers citing their obstructions. 8

According to 1919 estimates from the county Department of Public Works, a new Sixteenth Street Bridge, in conformity with the scheme by the War Department for the raising of the bridges along the river, was estimated to cost $770,000. 4

The first design submission, from Warren & Wetmore of New York, was then sent to the Pittsburgh Art Commission for aesthetic approval. 1 2 The advisory body, created by the state in 1911 to approve the aesthetics of crossings in the county costing more than $25,000, rejected the design. A second design submission, also from Warren & Wetmore, was successful.

Any obstacles to the commencement of construction of the new bridge were seemingly removed at a January 15, 1920, conference between the city council, county commissioners, city and county engineers, attorneys, and representatives of civic organizations, all of which had a stake in the new crossing. 5 A resolution was adopted to authorize the director of the Department of Public Works to prepare the proper ordnance for the opening, widening, and establishment of the grades of Sixteenth and Chestnut Streets. The only outstanding question was how the new structure would be financed.

Plans for the new Sixteenth Street Bridge were approved by the state Public Service Commission on July 11, 1921, 16 and a final examination of plans occurred on July 14 and 15. 15 Work soon began on the substructure of the new crossing.

Meanwhile, continuing disagreements over how the bridge would be funded boiled over at another conference between the city and county on March 15, 1922. 12 The city agreed to fund the bridge’s approaches with the county paying the full amount and requesting reimbursement from the city. 9 14 (The city’s share of the bridge construction cost came to $342,070.)

Substructure work was completed by July 1922, 11 with steel erection by the Fort Pitt Bridge Works beginning that November. 13 The new Sixteenth Street Bridge was finished at the cost of $1.25 million and opened on the night of October 9, 1923, 10 and the dedication of the structure included a parade under the direction of the Business Men’s Association of the Northside. Streetcar operations over the bridge began on April 1, 1925. 6

The Sixteenth Street Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 1979.

The crossing closed for major repairs on November 2, 1981. 17 Work on the $1.65 million project involved replacing the deteriorated roadway deck with a new epoxy-coated, reinforced concrete deck, installing new expansion joints, building new sidewalks, and conducting other structural repairs. It reopened to traffic on May 14, 1982. 18

The Sixteenth Street Bridge was closed for another $9.8 million 20 rehabilitation project on November 4, 2002. 19 21 Work involved repairing the substructure, replacing the concrete roadway deck and barriers, adding new drainage systems, installing new lights, and painting. The original contract called for a 32-inch-high solid concrete barrier but this was substituted for metal barriers at the behest of the Riverlife Task Force, a group dedicated to preserving the city’s river corridors. Additionally, historic preservationists made a request too late to investigate and restore the bridge to its original color; the county had already put the contract out to bid, and the superstructure was painted in Aztec gold.

Two lanes of the refurbished Sixteenth Street Bridge reopened to traffic after a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 15, with the other two lanes reopening in November. 20

The crossing closed at 11 AM on July 7, 2013, and reopened at 5 PM following a rededication ceremony that renamed the structure the David McCullough Bridge after David McCullough, a renowned local author and historian. 22 McCullough was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, had narrated several documentaries, and was the host of the PBS series “American Experience.”



  • State: Pennsylvania
  • Route: Sixteenth Street
  • Type: Steel Arch
  • Status: Active - Automobile
  • Total Length: 1,996 feet
  • Main Span Length: 213 feet (1840); 437 feet (1923)
  • Spans: 213 × 3 (1840); 240 feet × 2 approach steel arch spans (1923)
  • Deck Width: 38 feet (1923)
  • Above Vertical Clearance: 16.1 feet


  1. Cridlebaugh, Bruce S. “Sixteenth Street Bridge.”, 7 Feb. 2001.
  2. Hawley, Haven. “Three Sisters Bridges, Spanning Allegheny River at Sixth, Seventh & Ninth Streets, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, PA.” Library of Congress, Aug. 1998.
  3. “Old Sixteenth Street Bridge is Destroyed by Spectacular Fire Early This Morning.” Pittsburgh Daily Post, 23 Apr. 1918, p. 2.
  4. “New Bridge Cost to City $770,000, Swan Estimates.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 28 Sept. 1920, p. 15.
  5. “City Aid Given Plan of Bridge at 16th Street.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 16 Jan. 1920, p. 5.
  6. “16th Street Bridge Routing.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 31 Mar. 1925, p. 8.
  7. Fleming, George T. “A Study in Bridges.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 24 Jul. 1921, p. 34.
  8. “Plans Ordered Prepared to Raze Seventh Street Bridge.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11 Jul. 1923, p. 7.
  9. “Call Parley on Bridge Needs.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 Mar. 1924, p. 16.
  10. “Celebration to Open Bridge.” Pittsburgh Daily Post, 30 Sept. 1923, p. 54.
  11. “Bridge Raising Visit Planned.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 18 Dec. 1921, p. 37.
  12. “Conference on Sixteenth Street Bridge Set for Today.” Pittsburgh Daily Post, 15 Mar. 1922, pp. 1-7.
  13. “Sixteenth St. Bridge to be Completed Nov. 1.” Pittsburgh Press, 17 Jul. 1922, p. 12.
  14. “Mayor Declared Against City Expenditure on River Bridge.” Pittsburgh Press, 22 Jul. 1922, pp. 1-2.
  15. “16th Street Bridge Plans Considered.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 15 Jul. 1921, p. 11.
  16. “County to Rush 16th Street River Bridge to Aid Traffic.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12 Jul. 1921, p. 7.
  17. “16th Street Bridge Closing for Repairs.” Pittsburgh Press, 30 Oct. 1981, p. B5.
  18. “16th Street Bridge Opens Friday.” Pittsburgh Press, 12 May 1982, p. A2.
  19. Grata, Joe. “Deadline looms for reopening 16th St. Bridge.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 21 Aug. 2003, p. A12.
  20. “Rainbow Bridge.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 16 Sept. 2003, p. A18.
  21. “Bridges.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 27 Oct. 2002, p. B2.
  22. Schmitz, Jon. “City set to welcome McCullough Bridge.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 Jul. 2013, p. A9.

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