The Fort Pitt Bridge

The Fort Pitt Bridge - 2006

The Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnels were instrumental in linking the city with the growing suburbs south and west of the city. The Parkway West section of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway now extended all the way from downtown Pittsburgh to the airport in Moon Township and on to Beaver Falls.

This was another of the major transportation upgrades in the 1950s that made Pittsburgh a more easily accessible area for the suburban commuter. The Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel project's contributions to the development of the outer reaches of the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area rival those of the Liberty Bridge and Tunnels in the 1920s.

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Fort Duquesne Tunnels and Bridge

The idea of building another bridge across the Monongahela River began in 1924 and became a hot topic in the 1930s, when the South Hills was undergoing rapid development and population increases. The road network had dramatically improved with the construction of Saw Mill Run Boulevard and Banksville Road, but getting all of that traffic around Mount Washington caused major traffic tie-ups.

Designers proposed building twin tubes, 3,750 in length, through Mount Washington and an accompanying bridge, slightly upriver from the existing Point Bridge, to link the tunnel with Water Street in downtown Pittsburgh. Called the Fort Duquesne Tunnels and Bridge, the $8 million project was postponed due to lack of available funding and the onset of World War II.

The Fort Duquesne Tunnels and Bridge
as shown here in a 1934 drawing were one alternative
to relieve traffic congestion in the South Hills.
The Fort Duquesne Tunnels and Bridge, as shown here in a 1934 artist's rendering were one
alternative to relieve traffic congestion from the South Hills to downtown.

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A New Gateway To The City

The tunnel and bridge proposals were revisited during the late-1940s and became an integral part of Pittsburgh's Renaissance I initiative. They would be the new gateway to the City of Pittsburgh, one of the cornerstones of a modernization effort proposed by famed planner, Robert Moses, in 1939 known as the "Moses Plan".

In addition to providing another route into downtown to relieve the traffic congestion in the South Hills, the tunnel and bridge would link the two ends of Pennsylvania's new interstate highway, the Penn-Lincoln Parkway, and combine with a sister bridge to provide a direct link to the city's North Shore. The southern tunnel and bridge was renamed Fort Pitt, while the sister bridge to the North Shore took the name Fort Duquesne.

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Trolleys or No Trolleys

Bridge construction was delayed for three years while city and state officials debated whether to allow trolley tracks to be built into the plans. The Pittsburgh Railways Company argued that to build the bridge without tracks and tear down the Point Bridge, which has tracks, would destroy their West End trolley system.

Local and state planners countered that allowing tracks would destroy their aim of a high-speed highway system in and through Pittsburgh. The State Public Utilities Commission eventually decided in favor of the planners and tracks were omitted from the design. The ruling was then challenged in the courts. It wasn't until January 1956 when the Pennsylvania State Superior Court upheld the PUC decision.

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Computer Designed

Designed by engineer George S. Richardson, the Fort Pitt Bridge is a steel, double-decked tied arch bridge that spans the Monongahela River. It is the world's first computer designed tied arch bridge, and at the time of it's dedication the only bridge of its type in the world. Preliminary test boring for the piers began in January 1953 and actual bridge construction began in January 1956.

Fort Pitt Bridge piers - November 1954
Piers for the Fort Pitt Bridge stand on the north shore of the Monongahela River on November 26, 1954.

Fort Pitt Bridge piers - March 1956
Piers and ramp supports on the Point State Park side of the Monongahela River on March 28, 1956. Workers are
filling the area around the base of the piers in preparation for paving next to the shoreline.

Fort Pitt Bridge artist's conception - 1957
Artist's conception of the Fort Pitt Bridge published on June 28, 1957.

Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1958
Illustration shows the bridge progress dates in 1958. A tied-arch bridge is similar to an archers bow.
The roadway acts as a bowstring to tie the two ends of the bridge arch together and keep it arched.

Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1958

Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1958

Looking out the lower north portal of the Fort Pitt
Tunnels at downtown Pittsburgh - May 25, 1958.
View from the lower north portal of the Fort Pitt Tunnels on May 25, 1958, as workers
workers broke through the final few feet of rock on the north face of Mount Washington.

Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1958    Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1958

Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1958    Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1958

Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1958

Fort Pitt Bridge under construction
- October 18, 1958

Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1959
Fort Pitt Bridge on January 18, 1959.

Fort Pitt Bridge under construction - 1959
J.C. Jackanic (left), president of the firm that placed the reinforcing rods in the bridge, discusses
the next step with Eddie Matsey, foreman, and Cap Hartman, on-site supervisor.

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Dedication Day

Three years later, on June 19, 1959, the bridge was dedicated and opened for traffic amid fanfare, speeches and cheers. Governor David L. Lawrence, one of the driving forces in the planning and implementation of the Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel project called the opening "a high spot in Pittsburgh's observance of it's 200th birthday."

Following his brief talk, the Governor made his way to the yellow ribbon. He waited while a warm breeze blew for the other officials to join him, then cut the ribbon. The Governor then joined Mayor Thomas Gallagher and other dignitaries in the back seat of a gleaming Cadillac and joined a thirteen-car caravan, led by State Senator Joseph Barr.

Fort Pitt Bridge dedication - June 19, 1959
Fort Pitt Bridge dedication - June 19, 1959.

The city fireboat fired a watery salute about 100 yards upstream and curious onlookers lined both sides of the bridge as the procession slowly rolled over the new span to West Carson Street. The cars then turned around and proceeded back across the bridge to town.

The span, measuring 1,207 feet in length, contains 8066 tons of steel, 4950 tons of structural alloy steel and 2706 tons of structural carbon steel, plus 1305 tons of steel reinforcing rods. It has two 52-foot roadways, the upper for eastbound and the lower for westbound traffic. Among the contractors were the American Bridge Company, John F. Casey Company, Dinardo Inc., the Fort Pitt Bridge Company and J.C. Jackanic Inc.

Fort Pitt Bridge dedication - June 19, 1959
People walk onto the new bridge while the procession of vehicles passes over on dedication day.

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The Vital Link

The bridge opened fifteen months before the accompanying Fort Pitt Tunnels were completed. Prior to the tunnel opening, travelers heading west had to exit onto Carson Street and head to the West End Bypass in order to connect with the Parkway West.

The total cost of the bridge was $6.3 million. The Fort Pitt Tunnels were expected to cost $16 million, while the Point Park Portal Bridge and Fort Duquesne Bridge added another $6.9 million to the tab. Altogether, the cost of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway project, of which the Fort Pitt Bridge was the vital link, was expected to top $135 million.

The Fort Pitt Bridge in 1960. The old Point
Bridge still stands next to the new span.    The Fort Pitt Bridge in the early 1970s

The Fort Pitt Bridge replaced the old Point Bridge, which was built in 1927. The old bridge stood next to the new span, unused for a decade, until it's demolishion in 1970.

The Fort Pitt Bridge offramps connect to the Penn-Lincoln Parkway, the Boulevard of the Allies and Liberty Avenue. A fourth ramp is coupled with the Fort Pitt Bridge's sister span, passing over a portal bridge to the Fort Duquesne Bridge, which spans the Allegheny River.

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Aztec Gold

Originally painted gray, from 1978 to 1981 the Fort Pitt, Fort Duquesne and West End Bridges were all painted in their new official color, Aztec Gold. They would now share the same color as the three sisters bridges along the Allegheny River, great for postcard images of the City of Bridges.

The Fort Pitt Bridge received it's new paint job in 1980/1981. The entire process took about a year to complete, and involved first cleaning the bridge surfaces to remove any debris and corrosion, applying a red primer, a secondary sandstone color, and then the Aztec Gold finish.

Fort Pitt Bridge in 1981.
The Fort Pitt Bridge in 1981 showing the three different coats of paint applied.

Painting the Fort Pitt Bridge alone cost $2.3 million and was, at the time, the largest bridge painting contract ever awarded by the state. The entire three bridge job consumed more than 31,200 gallons of paint. Together with the Fort Duquesne Bridge, the two golden arches, with Point State Park nestled in between, have dramatically redefined the landscape near the confluence of the three rivers.

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The Eleven-Year Repair Job

Beginning in 1993, the Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnels underwent an eleven-year rehabilitation. Done in stages, the $200 million project began with the replacing of the granite and metal facades on the tunnel portals, the proceeded to a complete renovation of the bridge and associated ramps.

Fort Pitt Bridge in 2003.
The Fort Pitt Bridge on March 23, 2003, with the top (inbound) deck shut down until late-August for renovation.

During this decade-long project, work proceeded during the spring and summer construction seasons only. The biggest disruptions were in 2002 and 2003, when first the outbound, then the inbound decks were replaced, and the entire bridge repainted, forcing a total closure of the respective deck for several months each year.

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The Best Way To Enter An American City

Famous as the "best way to enter an American city," motorists approaching the city from the West on Interstate 279 are given no visual clues regarding their nearness to downtown Pittsburgh (with the exception of highway signs) as they enter the Fort Pitt Tunnels.

View of the Fort Pitt Bridge and the City of
Pittsburgh when exiting the Fort Pitt Tunnels.

After traveling through the brightly lit tunnels, their vehicle emerges on the other side of Mount Washington. Suddenly, the Golden Triangle bursts into view framed by the golden crossbracing of the bridge arches. The Fort Pitt Bridge carries over 150,000 vehicles per day.

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A 1956 LIFE magazine display
touts Pittsburgh's new image.
A 1956 Time Life display touts Pittsburgh's projected image after the end of the decades-long Renaisance I initiative.

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