The Liberty Tunnels and Bridge
The Gateway to the South Hills

Postcard from 1924 showing the new Liberty Tunnels.
A 1924 postcard showing the Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels along West Liberty Avenue.

<Additional Photos and Related Links>

Early South Hills Transportation Difficulties

In the latter part of the 19th century, the city of Pittsburgh was growing rapidly to the east, the north, and on the South Side. However, the five-mile long, 400-foot geological obstacle known as Mount Washington presented a major barrier to development in the South Hills area.

With transportation mostly limited to horse-drawn wagons and walking, residents of the South Hills had to rely on a series of inclines to traverse the hill, or they took the long way to the city, either up Warrington Avenue and down Arlington Avenue, or along the Saw Mill Run Valley to the West End.

These difficulties slowed the process of South Hills suburbanization, and the area retained a sparsely populated rural flavor, consisting of mostly rolling hills and tracts of farmland.

In 1904, the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel was built to extend streetcar service to the South Hills Junction and onwards to the southern boroughs. The new tunnel, the electric railway and the advent of motorized transportation accelerated development in West Liberty Borough (Brookline/Beechview) and other southern communities like Dormont and Mount Lebanon.

As the population grew, so did the amount of vehicular traffic. Soon it became necessary to find a quicker and easier way to get traffic to and from downtown Pittsburgh.

South Hills Junction - 1906  The Bell House Hotel and Tavern on Warrington
Avenue near West Liberty Avenue - Circa 1910.
The South Hills Junction in 1906 (left) with a billboard advertising home sales in Brookline, the 15-minute suburb,
and the
Bell House Tavern in 1910, located on Warrington Avenue near the intersection with West Liberty.

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A Tunnel Is Proposed

In 1909 the South Hills Board of Trade persuaded the Allegheny County Commissioners that a tunnel would be a boon to the region. The added cost of shipping goods and building supplies over or around Mount Washington was becoming a severe detriment to commercial prosperity and land development.

Proponents estimated that the tunnel would dramatically increase property valuation and act as a catalyst to real estate development in the region. It was agreed that a new Mount Washington tunnel, and a connecting bridge over the Monongahela River, were essential to the growth of the city, but no plans were in place and no promises were made by the commissioners as to when such a project would begin.

1888 map showing the north face of Mount Washington.
An 1888 picture showing the north face of Mount Washington. After years of debate, the location for the northern
portals of the South Hills Tunnel would emerge in the center of the image, behind the roof of the tall building.

While the overwhelming consensus throughout the South Hills was that a tunnel was necessary, the location of the proposed tunnel became a source of heated debate. Several different plans were introduced, each with the southern and northern tunnel portals emerging in different locations.

Acceptance of the individual proposals had much to do with where one lived and the benefits to that particular community, with the overall benefit to the city overlooked.

The first proposal to receive widespread support was the Shingiss-Haberman plan, or the "high" tunnel. The southern portal would have been at Haberman Avenue and Warrington Avenue, up the hill from the South Hills Junction. The northern portal would have been on Mount Washington, above Arlington Avenue and East Carson Street.

A double deck bridge over the Monongahela River would carry motorists to Shingiss Street, atop the Bluff near Duquesne University. This proposal placed the northern portals eighty feet higher and the southern portals 184 feet higher than the present-day tubes. It offered the greatest benefit to the communities of Mount Washington, Allentown, Knoxville and Beltzhoover.

Map showing various proposals for the Liberty Tunnels location.
1919 map showing the various proposals for the location of the Liberty Tunnels. #1 is the Haberman, or "high"
tunnel. #2 is a proposed extension. #3 is the Morse plan, running parallel to the abandoned Neeld Tunnel,
#4 is a cut proposed by City Engineers, #5 and #6 were the Shalerville proposals. The seventh
alternative, the Bell Tavern or "low" tunnel, was adopted by the County Commissioners.

As time progressed, other proposals were put forth. One confederation of residents pushed for the tunnel to be built closer to the line of the present-day Fort Pitt Tunnels. This was called the Shalerville proposal, and was economically favorable to residents of Carnegie, Banksville, Bridgeville, Robinson and Crafton.

Another alternative was submitted in 1914 by City Engineer W. M. Donley, who proposed a deep cut through Mount Washington, eliminating the need for a tunnel altogether.

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The "High" Tunnel Or The "Low" Tunnel

The South Hills Tunnel Association, comprised of residents from Brookline, Beechview, Fairhaven, Dormont, Baldwin and Mount Lebanon, wanted a tunnel that followed a low line and exited at Saw Mill Run near West Liberty Avenue. This was called the Bell Tavern plan, or the "low" tunnel. It was so named because of the proximity of the Bell House Tavern to the southern portal location.

The low tunnel proposal would allow access to the Saw Mill Run valley and the valley that extended southwestward to Dormont and Mount Lebanon, and had the support of the State Highway Commissioner, Edward M. Bigelow.

Mensinger's Stone Quarry - 1913.    West Liberty Avenue, looking north towards the
proposed location of the Liberty Tunnels - 1915.
Mensinger's Stone Quarry was located along the hillside near the junction of West Liberty Avenue and Warrington.
Shown to the left in 1913, this spot would be, in 1919, chosen as the location of the southern portals of the
South Hills tunnel. To the right is a 1915 view looking north along West Liberty towards the hillside.

The low tunnel proposal had the southern portals in there present-day location, and the northern portals positioned at East Carson Street and South First Street, and had no accomodations for a direct link to a Monongahela River bridge.

While South Hills residents and city planners debated on which tunnel proposal was best, the county itself began construction of a tunnel in the fall of 1915. Called the Neeld Tunnel, the plan was to run from East Carson and South Third streets to a southern portal sixty-seven feet below Warrington Avenue near Boggs Avenue.

County Highway Tunnel #1 - 1915
Work began on the Neeld Tunnel in July of 1915. Located just below Warrington Avenue, it was the first
attempt at building a vehicular tunnel connecting the South Hills area and downtown Pittsburgh.

Shortly after construction began, opponents filed a lawsuit which challenged the county's authority to build tunnels. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against the county and work was halted.

"The Saga Of Pittsburgh's Liberty Tubes"
Geographical Partisanship On The Urban Fringe
An Article on the Tunnel Debates - by Steven Hoffman

"Liberty Tunnels Site Chosen After Exhaustive Research"
The Gazette Times - May 24, 1919

Liberty Highway Tunnel and Bridge - 1919.

Eventually, after years of debate, in May 1919, the low tunnel proposal was adopted, with one change. The Allegheny County Commissioners ruled that the northern portal would be higher on the face of Mount Washington. It would link up with a proposed new bridge across the Monongahela River.

This solution would eliminate interference with existing traffic congestion on the busy East Carson Street. With the recent victory of World War I in mind, both the tunnels and the bridge would carry the same name, "Liberty."

The Liberty Tunnels future location - 1918.
The intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Warrington Avenue in 1918 before the Liberty Tunnels.

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Building The Liberty Tunnels

Groundbreaking for the new tunnels was held on December 20, 1919. The celebration took place on the Southern end of the project, followed by victory dinner held at the Fort Pitt Hotel. Several dignitaries, including the Governor of Pennsylvania, were in attendance.

The Pittsburgh Press reported that "an immense crowd was present when County Commissioner Gumbert applied the electric spark that exploded a light charge of dynamite on the hillside through which the tunnel will be bored. A few minutes earlier the county commissioners, Gumbert, Harris and Myer and Controller Moore, had been presented with silver plated picks and shovels by George Flinn, of the firm that will build the tunnel."

Groundbreaking for the Liberty Tunnels.

"The entire ceremony was informal. The Almas club of Dormont marched to the scene of the ground-breaking, the parade being augmented by delegations from Castle Shannon, Beechview, Brookline, Mount Lebanon, Fairhaven and Brookside," the Press reported. The estimated cost of the tunnels was $4,500,000. The contractor was Booth & Flinn, Ltd., the same firm that built the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel in 1904.

Construction work was halted in late-1920 due to an economic recession, then restarted in 1921. The revamped state of the economy actually saved the county a considerable sum on the original cost assessment. Work proceeded quickly, with the debris from the tunnel bores used in the creation of McKinley Park on Bausman Avenue.

Throughout the tunnel boring process, there was considerable discomfort to local residents living near the construction zone, as reported in the Pittsburgh Daily Post's October 31, 1920 article entitled "Broken Dishes, Spoiled Cakes, Disturbed Sleep Only Few of Troubles of Housewives Living Near Mouth of New Tunnel; Blasting Cause".

Boring proceeds on the Liberty Tunnels in 1920.

"Their dishes are being broken suddenly and regularly; babies are awakened from their afternoon nap at the most inconvenient times; cakes in the process of baking are rendered soggy and unedible. Those are a few of the things that are said to be happening," the article stated.

"It's the blasting in the tunnel. Those mighty blasts, which are going off every hour or so, throughout the day, are shaking things up considerably in the neighborhood."

The housewives formally registered their complaints with the county commissioners, but since the tunnel could not be built without blasting, there was little that the commissioners or the contractor could do to remedy the situation.

Boring proceeds on the Liberty Tunnels in 1921.
The dirt from the dig was hauled to McKinley Park.
Boring proceeds on the Liberty Tunnels in 1921, as seen from the South Portal entrance along West Liberty Avenue.

"Structural Design And Ventilation Of Liberty Tunnels"
Engineering News-Record - Volume 85 - July 8, 1920

"Boring Liberty Tunnels At Pittsburgh"
Earth Mover - Volume 8 - March 1921

"Liberty Tunnels Construction, Pittsburgh"
Public Works - Volume 51 - July 23, 1921

Boring proceeds on the Liberty Tunnels in 1921.
The dirt from the dig was hauled to McKinley Park.
A working platform inside the tunnel for shoring up the sidewalls and ceiling. The rail cars were used to haul material.

The boring of the 5889 foot tubes was completed on May 11, 1922. Now the work of shoring up the walls and installing the tunnel infrastructure began. A little over a year of back-breaking work later, by the end of August 1923, the paving of the concrete road surface was well underway and the project was nearing completion.

The tunnels in August 1923 during the
paving of the road surface.
The Southern Portals in August 1923 during the paving of the road surface.

On September 8, the new tunnels were thrown open for public inspection. More than 100 persons took advantage of the opening to marvel at the twin tubes. County Commissioner Gumbert announced to the crowd that the tunnels would not be officially opened to traffic until March or April, pending the installation of the ventilating, lighting and cement facing, those items not yet finished.

At the time of the inspection, the tunnels were already well lighted and most of the cement work was dry. Those who made the tour went in the east tunnel and came back the west tube. A little dog that dashed into the east tunnel was the first to go through. Several boys followed the dog, running through the tunnel and back again.

The tunnels in August 1923 during the
paving of the road surface.
Dignitaries and local residents gathered on September 8, 1923 to inspect the Liberty Tunnels.

By New Years Day 1924, preparations for the grand opening of Pittsburgh's newest marvel were nearing completion. The only item not in service was the ventilation system, a component that had been held up due to unforeseen circumstances. The Pittsburgh Press reported on January 13 that preliminary air quality trials were performed with up to 200 cars sent through the tunnel without ventilation.

A. C. Fieldner, head of the United States Bureau of mines declared the result of the tests would determine whether the tunnel would be safe to open without the forced air ventilation operational. After the procession of vehicles had driven in one tube and out the other three times, the entrances were sealed and samples of air taken.

Both tunnels were murky with the stagnant vehicle exhaust. Mr. Fieldner asserted a rough test that showed a strong presence of poison gas. He expressed the opinion that it would not be safe to linger in such a charged atmosphere for two hours and that it might not be safe to drive as few as 200 cars through before allowing the atmosphere to clear.

Bureau of Mines officials inspecting air quality inside the tunnel.
A.C. Fieldner of the Bureau of Mines (left), holding one of the canaries used in the testing,
while W .P. Yost and Dr. W. J. McConnell does a blood test on G. W. Jones.

Cages containing canaries were distributed through the tunnels, and although the birds were not overcome, Mr. Fieldner said carbon monoxide might be discharged in such quantities that it would not be worth the expenditure in time and money to open the tubes until the ventilating system was functional.

Despite these warnings, the Liberty Tunnels were opened on January 20, 1924. Strictly enforced speed restrictions were placed on motorists in an effort to keep the toxic fumes to a minimum while the ventilation issues were worked out. The twin tubes, considered an engineering marvel at the time, opened to much fanfare.

At the time it was the longest automobile tunnel in the world. In addition to motorized transportation, horse-drawn wagons were permitted to use the tunnels until 1932, and a well-trodden pedestrian walkway was present in each tube. The total cost of the project was $6 million, $1.5 over the original amount, but the economic benefit to the city, county and the entire South Hills would more than make up for the expense.

Freehold Real Estate Advertisement touting
the Bungalow Life in Brookline - 1924.
A Freehold Real Estate advertisement from 1924.

Because of the Twin Tubes, as they were commonly called, real estate sales and housing development in the southern communities entered a another boom phase. The population of Brookline, Dormont and Beechview more than doubled as a result. Mount Lebanon saw a 500% population increase! Three farms in Brookline that were appraised at $68,000 in 1920 saw their property valuation increase to $1.3 million.

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Carbon Monoxide Crisis

For nearly four months the tunnels functioned, with a measure of good luck, according to plan while officials waited eagerly for the stalled installation of the ventilation system.

Unfortunately, while jurisdictional strikes and other issues delayed implementation of the vital forced air flow, their luck ran out. On a sunny morning in May when the proper combination of events led to the crisis that Dr. Fieldner from the Bureau of Mines had warned of.

Carbon Monoxide Crisis - May 1924
The north tunnel entrance after all motorists had been rescued. The large picture on the left is C. H. Hooker of
the police force who bravery was outstanding. Patrolman Thomas Morrison, the large picture on the right,
also distinguished himself. A view of the streetcar tunnel, which was opened to the public for
pedestrian traffic, including the gentleman on the far left. The picture at right
center is Motorcycle Patrolman Louis Keebler, after being resusitated.

On May 10, 1924, there was a mass-transit strike that idled the Pittsburgh Railways streetcar service. Thousands of commuters who normally took the trolley to work turned to their automobiles to make the commute, resulting in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams all around the city.

During the morning rush hour, cars backed up inside the tubes from one end to the other, and soon traffic came to a halt. While vehicles idled inside the tunnels, many motorists helplessly began to succumb to the dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide gas and literally passed out at the wheel of their cars.

Carbon Monoxide Crisis - May 1924

The quick reaction of the city police and firemen prevented any fatalities, but several people were overcome with fumes, treated and taken to the hospital. The crisis was real and the results caused an immediate and overwhelming urgency in ventilating the tubes by the quickest means available. Differences were put aside and contractors got to work right away on a solution.

Carbon Monoxide Crisis - May 1924

"Courage, Cool Courage, Looms Large As Day's
Crisis Reveals Unsung Heroes"

Pittsburgh Press - May 10, 1924

Until a solution could be found, the city began counting vehicles and tunnel use was restricted. Engineers worked with the U.S Bureau of Mines to install a ventilation system consisting of two pairs of 200-foot vertical shafts that continuously pumped fresh air into the tunnels from a mechanical plant located atop Mount Washington.

"Exhaust-And-Supply Ventilation Of A Long Street Tunnel"
Engineering News-Record - Volume 94 - 1925

The air flowed with the direction of traffic. At the exit of each tube, a pergola-like windbreak above the portal prevents cross-currents of outside air from obstructing the air flow leaving the tunnel. The ventilation shafts were operational by August, and after a month's trial period, on September 1, 1924, traffic restrictions inside the tunnels were eliminated.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 1925
The northern end of the tubes in 1925. Bridge work was beginning and soon McArdle Roadway construction would start.
When the intersection was completed in 1928, a traffic circle was installed to facilitate the four-way flow of traffic.

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The Liberty Bridge

Although the tunnels made a huge difference in travel time from the South Hills to the North Face of Mount Washington, getting to the downtown city center still required a right turn onto Arlington Avenue, then heading downhill to Carson Street and across the Smithfield Street Bridge. The resulting congestion was relieved by the construction of the Liberty Bridge.

Plan for the Liberty Bridge - 1919.
Original plans for the Liberty Bridge, made public in May 1919.

From the time talk began of a tunnel through Mount Washington began there was also discussion about a bridge across the Monongahela River to link the tunnel directly with downtown Pittsburgh. When work began on the tunnel in 1919 plans were made public showing the proposed new bridge.

Expectations were that work on this span would begin shortly after the Liberty Tunnels were complete in January, 1924, but that did not happen. Several proposals were put forth for changes in the original plans and studies were initiated. The city was also delayed in getting approval for the bond issue necessary to fund the project.

The Liberty Bridge under construction in 1925.
The launching and towing of the caisson for the Liberty Bridge on August 18, 1925. On hand for the occasion were
F.C. Beinhauer, Daniel Winters, presidentof City Council, E.T. Whiter, regional vice president of the Pennsylvania
Railroad, County Commissioners Joseph G. Armstrong and E.V. Babcock, M.W. Clement, general manager of the
Pennsylvania Railroad, Judge Charles H. Kline, R.M. Dravo, vice president of the Dravo Contracting Company,
County Commissioner James Houlahen, Judge J. Carpenter and County Controller John P. Moore.

The $30 million bond issue was meant to cover several projects, including the Liberty Bridge, McArdle Roadway, the Armstrong tunnels, construction of the County Office Building and road improvements.

By the summer of 1925 these issues had been overcome and in August work began on construction of the bridge piers. A huge caisson was launched from Neville Island, built by the Dravo Contracting Company. The caisson was towed upriver and positioned to begin the pier construction.

Crews working in the caisson - September 1925.
Clearing mud and taking a rock sounding in the south river caisson on September 25, 1925.

The caisson was sunk below the river bottom until it reached bedrock, twenty feet below the river bed. Way down below the river, crews of fifteen men, working eight hours a day at double normal atmosphere, worked to clear away mud from under the caisson to reach bedrock.

Once the piers were in place, the steel frame was erected from both shores extending towards the middle. On June 15, 1927, both ends were joined. Another nine months would pass before construction was finished.

Construction of the Liberty Bridge - September 1926.
Progress of the bridge construction as of October 24, 1926.

At the time, it was the highest (670 feet above water level) and the costliest bridge built in Allegheny County, coming in at $3.436 million.Some said that the construction of the bridge was "the most pretentious projects ever undertaken."

The bridge driveway was 38 feet wide with two sidewalks measuring eight and a half feet in width. It is constructed of steel and concrete with granite facing on the piers to the water's edge. The bridge contains 11,000 tons of steel. The original pavement was asphaltic concrete with a concrete base. A huge seventy-foot concrete wall protects the hillside at the Forbes Avenue approach to the bridge.

The Liberty Bridge under construction in June 1927.
The Liberty Bridge under construction in June 1927.

All phases of construction were completed by mid-March and the grand opening was held on March 27, 1928. Once the bridge was in service, traffic flowed straight across the river to ramps, both ninteen and a half feet wide, leading to the Boulevard of the Allies and Forbes Avenue.

McArdle Roadway, which scaled Mount Washington from the tunnel entrance to Grandview Avenue, opened the same year. For residents of the southern communities, a journey that once took hours was now completed in a matter of minutes, providing further impetus to the escalating real estate values of South Hills property.

The Liberty Bridge shortly after opening in 1928.
A view of the Liberty Bridge from the Duquesne Bluff, looking to the southwest, shortly after opening in 1928.
Also visible is the new McArdle Roadway, running up the side of Mount Washington to Grandview Avenue.

The exit of the North Portals, now a four-way intersection, was adorned with a decorative traffic circle containing a monument to Liberty. As vehicular traffic increased, this large circle became a hindrance.

When traffic signals were introduced in 1933, the circle was removed and the intersection cleared of any obstacles. A pole with traffic lights facing in all four directions was installed in front of the portals, out of the way of the vehicles.

Installing guard rails on bridge - August 29, 1935.
Pouring concrete for the installation of guard rails on August 29, 1935.

Another early improvement was the placing of heavy reinforced concrete guard rails placed alont the roadway. This was to prevent future occurances of a tragic accident that happened at the Washington Crossing Bridge where a car plunged over the curb, through the bridge railing and plummeted into the Allegheny River.

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A Dangerous Intersection

Another problem that became evident only a short time after the original opening of the Liberty Tunnels was the increasing traffic congestion at the intersection of Saw Mill Run and West Liberty Avenues. The resulting number of accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians was alarming.

In 1930 the busy crossroads was identified in a Pittsburgh Press feature documentary as one of the city's ten deadliest traffic locations. By 1932 there were 25,000 vehicles using the tunnels each day, already exceeding the designed capacity. By the end of the 20th century that number had more than tripled, to nearly 80,000.

The Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1932.    The Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
and the traffic circle in November 1932.
Vehicles pass at the South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels (left) in 1932, before the installation of traffic signals.
The sign on the tunnel reads "R - U - A Safe Driver?" To the right is a view of the North Portals,
in November 1932, with a similar sign posted that reads "We're Here For Safety."
The traffic circle outside the North Portals was removed in 1933.

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Liberty Tubes - A Toll Tunnel?

On July 7, 1934 an article ran in the Pittsburgh Press discussing the pros and cons of charging a toll for South Hills motorists to use the Liberty Tunnels. The purpose of this toll was to pay for the many road projects occuring in the South Hills. Saw Mill Run Boulevard had recently been completed and now there were projects proposed to build the West End Bypass and a Fort Duquesne Tunnel and Bridge connecting the Banksville Traffic Circle with downtown Pittsburgh.

The debate didn't last long. Many feared that this toll would isolate the South Hills, force motorists to bypass the tunnel altogether for alternate paths over Mount Washington and further increase traffic congestion, and cause a movement to begin imposing tolls on other bridges in and out of downtown to raise funds. This in turn would isolate downtown itself and cause an economic decline in the heart of Pittsburgh.

Needless to say the toll proposal was roundly rejected and funding for the continuing expansion of the road network in the South Hills came from other sources. It would be twenty-some years before motorists saw the completion of the West End Bypass and the building of the new tunnel and bridge to downtown, by then renamed the Fort Pitt Tunnel and the Fort Pitt Bridge.

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Liberty Tunnels Improvements - 1975

For fifty years after their dedication, the Liberty Tunnels remained basically the same as originally designed. In 1939 the road was repaved, and new lighting and drainage installed.

Then, in 1975, the Tubes received a $7.2 million overhaul. The renovations included a new road bed, upgrades in lighting, installation of antenna wires for AM Radio reception, and the removal of the long abandoned walkways to enlarge the traffic lanes.

Years of dirt and grime were removed from the inside, and the outside facades were refurbished. The deteriorating concrete surface was covered in both brick and steel siding, giving the tunnels what designers considered a distinctive "Rust Belt" look. These were the last major repairs done to the tunnels for the next three decades.

Motorist view exiting the North Portal with
City of Pittsburgh in background - 1960    Motorist view exiting the North Portal with
City of Pittsburgh in background - 1974
A motorist's view in 1960 (left) and in 1974 (right) as they exited the inbound North Portal heading into Pittsburgh.

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Liberty Bridge Rehabilitation - 1982/1984

In 1976, the Liberty Bridge, which handled 45,000 vehicles a day, was beginning to show serious signs of deterioration. Fifty years of wear and tear had taken it's toll on the majestic Pittsburgh span.

A fifteen ton weight restriction was placed on vehicles and the sidewalks were closed. In places, small sections of the walkways had completely worn down to the point where a pedestrian could look through the steel rebar strips to river below.

In April 1982, a $31 million bridge rehabilitation project was begun. Traffic continued to flow on a limited basis throughout the two-year construction period, with one lane open in each direction. During weekdays, the traffic flow was either inbound or outbound for twelve hour periods.

The bridge was completely refurbished, from the steel superstructure to the sidewalks, deck, road surface and other infrastructure. The span was also repainted in Aztec Gold, in lieu of the former Silver coat, to match other Pittsburgh bridges. The Liberty Bridge rehabilitation was completed in the summer of 1984.

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The Liberty Tunnels Interchange - 1996/1999

Beginning in the 1930s, a number of proposals were introduced to modernize the four-way intersection at the corner of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard to better facilitated the numerous traffic patterns at the crowded intersection

The streetcar tracks were diverted to the Palm Garden Tressel in 1940. Although helpful, this improvement did nothing to address the ever-increasing flow of automobile traffic.

The Liberty Tunnels Interchange - 2004.
The Liberty Tunnels Interchange, shown in 2004, was a major transporation improvement for South Hills residents.

Not until 1996 was the problem addressed. At this time the intersection was used by 140,000 commuters daily. With the pending reconstruction of the Fort Pitt Tunnels scheduled to begin in 2000, and the expected increase of traffic through the Saw Mill Run Corridor due to detours, the state finally acted on the issue.

Michael Baker Corp. was awarded a $40 million contract to design and build a new interchange. The ambitious project was completed in just three years. The design involved several components, including seven intersecting streets, 3,500 feet of connector roads, two bridges, two box culverts, five retaining walls, drainage, lighting, signing and five signalized intersections.

North Portal - 2010    South Portal - 2010
Photos from 2010 showing both the Southern Portals (left) and the Northern Portals.

"Gateway To Suburbia"
Michael Baker Jr. Inc. recounts its experience designing the multiple award-winning
Liberty Tunnels Interchange, and how software contributed to its success.

The Liberty Tunnels Interchange was officially dedicated on November 19, 1999. The results were stunning, and traffic flow through the intersection was dramatically improved.To the delight of South Hills residents who used the Tubes for their morning and afternoon commute, what was once a dreaded snarl of rush hour traffic became a simple one or two light delay.

In addition to the new southern interchange, engineers made improvements to the tunnels themselves, installing a cement roadbed with reflective barriers on the sides, and repainting the walls. The smooth roadway, and the ease of travel created by the modern interchange were huge upgrades in convenience for South Hills travelers.

Brookline Aerial View - December 2014
The Liberty Tunnels Interchange in December 2014.

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Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2011/2019

In 2008 work began on a comprehensive, $18.8 million overhaul of both the interior and exterior of the tunnels. The facades of the southern and northern portals underwent a complete facelift.

The rustic outer brick facing was torn down, exposing the original concrete exterior. Once the deteriorating concrete was removed and shored up, decorative panels were installed that resembled the tunnel's original appearance.

Liberty Tunnels New South Portal Design - 2014.
A 2008 artist's rendering of what the new portals will look like after the reconstruction was completed in 2014.

In addition to the exterior work, extensive repairs was done to the interior of the tubes. Cracks on the inner walls were repaired, cross-sections renovated and the walls thoroughly cleaned and repainted. Modern electrical lighting and safety systems were installed. The prime contractor was Swank Construction Company.

Liberty Tunnels South Portal - 2014.
The completed Southern Portal entrance in 2014.

Construction work was completed in the early fall of 2014. For motorists in the South Hills and the City of Pittsburgh, it was a fine day indeed. A historic landmark had been completely refurbished and returned to it's original luster.

The Liberty Tunnels Interchange - December 2014.
An aerial view of the southern tunnel interchange taken in December 2014. Approaching 100 years of age,
the Liberty Tunnels remain one of the primary gateways to the South Hills.

In addition to the tunnel project, PennDot also contracted Gulisek Construction to perform a $4.32 million improvement project on the Liberty Tunnels South Interchange. The project ran from March to July 2017, and included concrete patching, an asphalt overlay, bridge preservation, drainage improvements, ADA curb cut ramp installation, signage and signal upgrades, ramp reconstruction, and other miscellaneous construction activities at the Route 51 (Saw Mill Run Boulevard) and Route 19 (West Liberty Avenue) interchange.

The final phase of the Liberty Tunnel rehabilitation project was put off until July 2017. The two year, $30.27 million project will be completed in February 2019. It includes paving inside the tunnel, upgrading the air monitoring and fire suppression system and repairs to the roof and retaining wall. The ventilation system will also being overhauled.

The Liberty Tunnels brought growth and prosperity to the South Hills in the 1920s. Nearly a century later, the venerable twin tubes are still the primary "Gateway to Suburbia" for the residents of Brookline and the nearby South Hills communities.

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Liberty Bridge Reconstruction - 2016/2018

In April 2016, PennDot kicked off a three years, $87 million construction project on the aging Liberty Bridge. The project, which was carried out by Joseph B Fay Company, includes deck replacement, ramp reconstruction, a new walkway, structural steel repairs, painting of the entire structure and concrete repairs.

Workers reinforcing critical beam damaged by the fire.
The outbound deck being replaced while three lanes of traffic proceed to the right.

Signage improvements were made and a new overhead lane control system was installed to allow the direction of traffic flows to be switched. The overall project was completed in July 2018.

All was going as planned until September 2, 2016, when sparks from a welder cutting steel ignited plastic ventilation pipe and a construction tarp. It took Pittsburgh firefighters about a half-hour to put out the blaze, which burned at more than 1,200 degrees.

Liberty Bridge Fire - September 02, 2016.
The Liberty Bridge on fire - September 2, 2017.

Liberty Bridge Fire - September 02, 2016.    Liberty Bridge Fire - September 02, 2016.
The accidental blaze burns under the Liberty Bridge (left) while firefighters work quickly to extinguish the flames.

When the fire was extinguished it was discovered that the intense heat from the fire had caused one of the major structural beams, at a critical juncture. The damage was so significant that their were fears that the eighty-eight year old bridge could collapse.

Construction was halted for several weeks and, once the bridge stability was secured, severe weight restrictions were implemented. In the meantime, experts from Carnegie Mellon and Lehigh Universities designed a pair of 26.5-foot braces that were attached to each side of the damaged chord. The repair was successful. All weight limits were removed and construction was restarted.

Workers reinforcing critical beam damaged by the fire.
Construction workers reinforce the critical beam damaged by the September fire.

When the bridge reconstruction project is completed, the venerable Liberty Bridge should be prepared to serve City of Pittsburgh motorists without a need for major repairs for the next several decades.

Photos Of The Liberty Tunnels And Bridge

Click on images for larger pictures

  Before The Liberty Tunnels
  Constructing the South Portals
  Constructing the North Portals
  Boring The Twin Tubes
  The Southern Portals
  The Northern Portals
  Carbon Monoxide Crisis
  Liberty Tunnels Ventilation

Liberty Bridge Construction  
Liberty Bridge Dedication  
Pittsburgh's Liberty Bridge  
South Interchange Proposal  
Liberty Tunnels Interchange  
Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction  
Vintage Postcards  
Related Links  


Before the Liberty Tunnels - 1915

Workers laying a sewer line at the end
of West Liberty Avenue - May 1915.    West Liberty Avenue approaching
Warrington Avenue in July 1915.
Workers installing a new sewer line along West Liberty Avenue (left) in May 1915 near the base of Mount
Washington. A stone quarry stands along the hillside where the Liberty Tunnels southern portals
would soon be constructed. The photo on the right shows a view looking north along
West Liberty Avenue towards the Mount Washington hillside in July 1915.

West Liberty Avenue approaching
Warrington Avenue in October 1915.    West Liberty Avenue approaching
Warrington Avenue in December 1915.
West Liberty Avenue, looking north from Pioneer Avenue toward the intersection with
Warrington Avenue in October 1915 (left) and again in December 1915.

Constructing the South Portals

Clearing The Hillside - 1920

Constructing the South End

Constructing the South Portals    Constructing the South Portals

Boring The Tubes - 1921

Constructing the South Portals - July 23, 1921    Constructing the South Portals

Boring the Southern Portals

Brady Stewart Gallery Photo    Brady Stewart Gallery Photo

Constructing the Southern Portals.
A narrow gauge locomotive, formerly of the Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad, preparing to move a
rail cars loaded with debris from the tunnel excavation to the landfill area along Bausman Street.

Dumping The Excavated Debris

Dumping debris in McKinley Park - 1921
A train of Western four-yard dump cars discharging a load of debris along Bausman Street from the tunnel dig.
It was this landfill that helped create the roadbed and the tiered plateaus that define lower McKinley Park.

Constructing the North Portals

Constructing the North End    Constructing the North End

Constructing the North Portals.

Constructing the North End

Boring The Twin Tubes (1919-1922)

Some design specs for the Liberty Tunnels.

Construction Workers and a Crane inside the tunnel bore - 1921.
Construction workers and a crane inside the tunnel bore.

Construction inside the Liberty Tunnels - 1921    Construction inside the Liberty Tunnels - 1921
Sidewalls, forms and traveling incline (left) for concrete rail cars; Erecting steel forms for arch concrete.

The Steel
 Ribbing lining the inside of the Liberty Tunnels
The structural steel ribbing placed inside the tunnels was spaced at different intervals to account for varying environmental conditions. The use of steel H-beams reduced the amount of timber used during construction.

Motorists travel through the Liberty Tunnels. The
ventilation shafts are visible mid-way through the tunnels.
Inbound motorists travel through the tunnel. Ventilation shafts are visible at the mid-way point.

The South Hills Twin Tubes

West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard
at the intersection with the Liberty Tunnels.
The southern portals of the Liberty Tunnels, at the intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run
Boulevard, in 1930. This crossroads was deemed one of the
ten deadliest traffic locations in the City
of Pittsburgh by the Bureau of Traffic Planning. This was a time when increasing automobile,
street car and pedestrian traffic combined to create a lethal mix, and fatal accidents
were becoming a serious problem. In July 1930, the Pittsburgh Press deemed this
to be one of the worst in the city. A city-wide effort was initiated to help
make several heavily used roadways safer for all forms of traffic.

A safety sign outside the Liberty Tunnels in 1932.
A traffic safety sign at the entrance to the Tubes in 1932.

The South Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in 1932.    The South Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in 1932.
The southern portals, at the intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard, in 1932.

Looking south from above the Liberty
Tunnels South Portals in 1932.
Looking south towards Brookline from atop the south portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1932. Pioneer Avenue is
visible to the left, heading up the hill towards the homes in the Paul Place Plan and West Liberty School.

The Liberty Tunnels South Portal - 1936.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1936.

The Liberty Tunnels in 1939.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1937.

The Liberty Tunnels in 1946.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels on January 29, 1946.

The Liberty Tunnels in 1950.
Soldiers of the Pennsylvania National Guard were in Pittsburgh to clear snow and restore order after
Thanksgiving Day Blizzard of 1950. This photo was taken on November 30, five days
after the storm, showing soldiers directing traffic outside the Liberty Tunnels.

The Liberty Tunnels in 1954.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1954.

Liberty Tunnels South Portal, early 1940s.    Liberty Tunnels South Portal in 2001.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1940 (left) and in 2001. The original facade of the tunnels
had been replaced with the brown brick and steel exterior during a 1975 renovation.

Approaching the Liberty Tunnels South Portal - 2011
Approaching the Liberty Tunnels traffic interchange and the South Portals in 2011.

The Northern Portals

The Pittsburgh end of the Liberty Tunnels
prior to construction of the bridge - 1924.
The City of Pittsburgh looking from north to south. Visible on the hillside across the river, above Carson Street
are the North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels. The year is 1924, shortly after tunnel construction ended.
Work on the Liberty Bridge would begin in 1925. Until the bridge was completed in 1928, motorists
entering the city from the south turned right onto McArdle Roadway, then left onto Arlington
Avenue to Carson Street. The Smithfield Street Bridge was their gateway to downtown.

The northern portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1924.
Zooming in on the photo above to show the northern portals in 1924.

The Liberty Tunnels,
 North Portal - 1924
The North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in December 1923. The tunnels opened to traffic one month later.
With no bridge in place, both inbound and outbound lanes turned towards Arlington Avenue.

The northern portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1926.
The outbound Northern Portal, shown here in 1926.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 1928
The North Portal and traffic circle in 1928. Only four years after opening, the white facade of
the tunnel entrance already shows the effects of the sooty atmosphere of the Smokey City.

The Liberty Bridge in 1940.
The traffic circle at the tunnel entrance was removed in 1933.

Crews clean up after a mudslide at the
exit to the inbound North Portal - 1933.
The inbound North Portal (left) in 1933, as maintenance crews clear the roadway after a mudslide.
The Mount Washington hillside can be unstable, and landslides have been persistent problem over the years.

The Liberty Tunnels in 1939.
The Liberty Tunnels in 1939, after the installation of new lighting and a new road bed.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 1940
By 1940 the traffic circle had been removed and replaced by Traffic Division officers. Traffic patterns also changed
slightly. Coming inbound out of the tunnels there was no more left turns onto McCardle Roadway.
Approaching the tunnels, left turns to McCardle were also eliminated.

Exiting the Liberty Tunnels North Portal - 1947
Exiting the Liberty Tunnels inbound North Portal around noontime in 1947. This was what motorists saw as they
entered the dark, murky atmosphere of the "Smokey City" before environmental controls were established.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 1950's
Approaching the North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in the 1950s.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 2011
The Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 2011.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 2012
The Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels during initial reconstruction work in 2012.

Thousands Overcome By Automobile Exhaust
May 10, 1924

Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924
A crowd gathers outside the Liberty Tunnels North Portals during the carbon monoxide crisis in the tubes.

Courage, Cool Courage, Looms Large As Day's
Crisis Reveals Unsung Heroes

By William G. Lytle, Jr.

Panic, heroism, cool courage - the raw elements of disaster - rode the confusion that jammed the exits of the Liberty Tunnels today when poison death swept its vapors through the packed tunnels, smothering more than a score of persons into insensibility.

Into a half-hour of frightful chaos, scenes of bravery, fear and disorder that passed beyond description crushed their speeding pictures when a traffic jam at the north end of the tunnel caused the line to slow up for a period so long that deadly fumes had time to do their work.

Minutes when death for trapped motorists and pedestrians was imminent transformed ordinary men into heroes. Men who had risen from their breakfast tables with never a thought but to resume their daily routine found themselves cast in the lists of heroism by fate.

Hundreds of persons milled around the tunnel mouth, breathless. Those who had fled in time came staggering from the entrances whence the gas murk rolled. They were gasping, eyes bloodshot, hearts pounding.


Policemen, firemen, motorcycle officers, the disaster squads of the United States bureau of mines, civilians, plunged into the tubes where men and women lay unconscious in their automobiles stricken where the gas terror had overtaken them.

Lights were obscured within the tubes by the density of the gas. Rescuers groped through the darkness, fumbling from car to car, soaked handkerchiefs over their faces, hunting for those who had fallen.

Thomas Morrison and C.W. Hooker, two patrolmen, were two whose bravery stands forth as something to be remembered. With no gas masks, both fought their way hundreds of yards into the death trap. They carried out, on their backs, four persons, who would have died but for their arrival. Morrison found one man sprawled in the bottom of a coupe, his hands grasping at the door. The fact that there was no motor key in the car indicated that a panic-stricken companion had fled, leaving the other occupant of the car to his fate.

There were many brave men like Hooker and Morrison who performed mighty deeds in that welter of foundered cars and unconscious men and women, and vanished when their work was done so that their names are unknown.

The story of Charles Maire, an electrician on the Panhandle division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was pieced together, after he was found lying on his face beside the railroad tracks, 200 yards away from the scene of the disaster. Those who found Maire think he was among the first to rush to the tunnel to aid in resue work when the alarm was sounded.


After helping to carry out those who had dropped, his own lungs tortured with the gas, his heart laboring desperately, Maire wandered vaguely back toward the work he had left. There the gas felled him, without warning. It acts that way.

A workman, shoving his dazed, gas scarlet face into a blue handkerchief, staggered from an orifice between the tubes. He swayed a moment, speechless. No one noticed him for a short interval, so great was the confusion. He waved his arms. Then without warning, exactly as if someone had kicked him in the knees from behind, the man's legs doubled up and he fell on his face on the concrete pavement.

Rescuers picked the victim up. He fought them madly, still silently and in the clutch of the gas, while he grabbed at his throat with horrible gestures.

Officers and men of the Pittsburgh police force never distinguished themselves with greater gallantry than in the black depths of the tunnel.

Liberty Tunnels Dedication    Liberty Tunnels Dedication
First aid is given to policemen overcome by carbon monoxide fumes while rescuing people from inside the tunnels.


As order was forced upon the excited, jabbering throng at the mouth, a rift in the crowd showed a row of men in the gray-black uniform of the motorcycle service, writhing on the curb. Rescuers had oxygen tubes to the mouth of each man.

One officer slumped on his back on the cushion of an automobile, his gunbelt flapping loosely, his shirt open, his chest rising slowly with each painful breath. His comrade at his side was able to sit up, supporting an oxygen tube with trembling arms and sucking at the good air as if his strained body would never get its fill of oxygen.

These men had raced into the tubes time and again. Almost overcome, their courage had driven them back for more. When the last victim was carried out, the men of the motorcycle division still beat back once more into the evil-smelling, choking fumes lest some persons might still be fighting for life in one of the abandoned cars.

As the last cars were towed out and certainty was established that no other person remained in the tubes, the men of the motorcycle squads toppled to the street and lay there. They had fought the fight to the end.

Alexander Tyhurst and Roy Brandt, two patrolmen, knocked down connecting doors within the tubes and allowed the passage of air. They found three of their comrades, Cox, Kepeler and Sergeant A.L. Jacks, huddled against the wall and carried them to safety.

Ammonia was sprayed in the tubes by the disaster squads of the bureau of mines to counteract the carbon monoxide.

Brave men and their work alone held back certain tragedy, when the Liberty Tunnel disaster counted first toll in Pittsburgh's "stupendous folly," the street car strike.

* Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Press - May 10, 1924 *

Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924
Thousands of Pittsburghers, accustomed to going to work in streetcars, jammed into motor vehicles in an effort
to get to their places of employment. Traffic jams, like this one on West Liberty Avenue, were typical of
of the road conditions that prevailed on virtually every artery leading to downtown Pittsburgh.

<><><><> <><><><> <><><><> <><><><> <><><><> <><><><>

Cars Jam At Mouth And Tube Blocked

More than two score of men and women are in a serious condition as the result of being overcome by fumes in the new Liberty Tunnels today when the increased automobile traffic due to the streetcar strike caused two lines of cars to be blocked for the entire length of the tunnel, one and one-fifth miles.

The tubes were closed after the jam but later were reopened with a motorcycle patrol directing the cars.

For more than an hour police officers, firemen, rescue workers from the United States bureau of mines, and volunteers fought the fumes to rescue the motorists. Scores of others abandoned their cars when they realized the danger of their situation and came staggering from the tube in a dazed state.

Police officers, with no protection other than handkerchiefs over their faces, worked until they dropped and had to be removed by their fellow rescue workers. Firemen with gas masks and search lights assisted this work as did a crew of twelve men from the government bureau of Schenley Park.

Inability of traffic officers to keep autombiles moving away from the Brownsville Avenue end of the tube onto Carson Street caused the cars to become stalled back in the tube. For a few minutes the passengers and driver in the automobile thought the blockade was only temporary and would soon be relieved. When they realized the jam was critical, they abandoned their cars and ran toward the ends of the tube for safety.


Assistant Superintendent of Police Joseph Dye, assisted by all of the police commissioners, many lieutenants and squads of patrolmen, assumed charge of the confused situation and directed the rescue work. Patrol wagons, ambulances and fire equipment waited at the mouth of the tunnel to be of service.

Many of those removed from the gas-filled tubes were given first aid treatment at the homes of Fred Eberle on Brownsville Road. Others were taken directly to one of the several hospitals which sent ambulances to the scene of the disaster.


Charles Eisenbarth, aged fifty-three, foreman of the Allegheny County road department, who is caretaker of the tubes, made fou8r trips into the deadly carbon monoxide fumes to rescue the trapped mototists and pedestrians.

As he emerged from his last trip, he was able to walk but a few staggering steps at a time. He was writhing in his agony of pain and thrashi about with his arms as he tried to breath. Although almost unconscious and unable to talk, Eisenbarth fought savagely when rescue workers attempting to give his restoratives.

Addison Gumbert, County Commissioner, and Thomas Pfarr, County Fire Commissioner, were early on the scene and set about making the inquiries and observations which probably will be the basis for an investigation.

Traffic was detoured away from the Tubes by way of Warrington and Brownsville Avenues.


Bert Jacks, E.J. Thompson, H.J. Duffy, Harold McAfee, Joh Hilson, Henry Cox, Louis Kedeler, Frances Little, M. Rosen, Alex Heazlett, Joseph Galsea, Alfred Carelly, G.W. Barcla, Regina Dempsey, Katherine Haas, S.J. McClelland, Hannah Lawrence, Charles Maire, A.M. Hutchens and James McCarthy.

All of the victims were overcome by fumes and transported to local hospitals, many in serious condition. After proper medical treatment, all were eventually released.

* Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Press - May 10, 1924 *

Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924
The top and center photos show a number of policemen being resusitated after being overcome with carbon monoxide
fumes while rescuing persons caught in the traffic jam in the Liberty Tunnels. The bottom photo shows members
of the fire department's gas squad who donned their masks and helped clear the traffic jam from the tunnels.

Some Of The Actual Photos From The Press Archives

Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924.    Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924.

Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924.

Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924.    Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924.

Liberty Tunnels Ventilation

The intake vent in the center of the tubes.    The exhaust vent in the center of the tubes.
The ventilation intake and exhaust shafts located near the center of each tube.

An architectural drawing of the intake and
exhaust shafts inside the Liberty Tunnels.

An architectural drawing of the wind shafts
at the portals of the Liberty Tunnels.

The Tunnel Ventilation Power Plant
located atop Mount Washington.

Ventilation for the Liberty Tunnels is provided by this power plant, located atop Mount Washington along Secane
Avenue. The plant, built in 1925, can push 1,100,000 cubic feet of air per minute through the tunnels.

The Tunnel Ventilation Power Plant
located atop Mount Washington.

One of the eight large electric motors
that power the tunnel ventilation system.
One of the eight large electric motors that power the tunnel ventilation system.

Liberty Bridge Construction

Artist's Conception - South End of Bridge

The photos above and below show an artist's conception of the proposed Liberty Bridge before construction began.

Artist's Conception - North End of Bridge

Artist's Conception

The caisson for the southern pier of the Liberty Bridge in August 1925.
Working at the caisson for the southern pier of the Liberty Bridge in August 1925.

Work begins on southern entrance to the Liberty Bridge in December 1925.
Work begins on southern entrance to the Liberty Bridge in December 1925.

One of the mid-piers of the Liberty Bridge in 1925.
Construction of the piers that would support the Liberty Bridge as it crosses the Monongahela River.

The two ends of the Liberty Bridge were joined June 1927.
The two ends of the bridge were joined on June 15, 1927.

A view of bridge construction from the Blvd of the Allies in August 1927.
A view of bridge construction from the Boulevard of the Allies on October 12, 1927.

Liberty Bridge two weeks before opening.
Greater Pittsburgh - The New Liberty Bridge - March 10, 1928.

A view of bridge on March 26, 1928.
A view of the completed bridge on the day before the dedication on March 26, 1928.

Liberty Bridge Dedication

The Liberty Bridge was dedicated on March 27, 1928. Coupled with the opening of the Liberty Tunnels in 1924, the new bridge was a major achievement for the City of Pittsburgh in the advancement of its evolving transportation network. The combined cost of the new tunnels and bridge was $9,400,000.

Liberty Bridge Dedication - March 27, 1928
A parade of automobiles streams across the Liberty Bridge on Dedication Day - March 27, 1928.

The big day started began in Mount Lebanon, where the largest motorcade in the history of the City of Pittsburgh had gathered. The five mile long procession flowed north on West Liberty Avenue through Dormont and Brookline, then turned left onto Warrington Avenue. It passed through Beltzhoover and Allentown, then onto Arlington Avenue.

The parade of vehicles winded down the hill to Carson Street, then crossed the Smithfield Street Bridge and moved on to the Boulevard of the Allies. When it reached the intersection with the bridge the lead car came to a stop.

Liberty Bridge Dedication - March 27, 1928

City, County and State officials were on hand to dedicate the bridge and restart the procession. The honor of actually cutting the red, while and blue ribbon went to Allen H. Lemon, aged seven, of 919 Carson Street, and Joseph G. Armstrong III, aged two, grandson of County Commissioner Joseph Armstrong.

Once the ribbon was cut the vehicles, four abreast, slowly crossed the bridge and continued on through the tunnels, then back up West Liberty Avenue to the starting point. The motorcade continued for ninety minutes while crossing the bridge.

Liberty Bridge dedication - March 28, 1928.
Another image of the Liberty Bridge dedication on March 27, 1928.

The tunnels themselves shortened the travel time from the South Hills to downtown significantly. The accompanying bridge lessened that time even more. A motorist could now get from the intersection of Saw Mill Run Road and West Liberty Avenue to downtown Pittsburgh in less than five minutes on a good day.

Only five years earlier, the same drive took nearly an hour or longer. Prior to the advent of the automobile, that trip could last several hours. The Liberty Tunnels and Bridge were responsible for a near quadrupling of property values in the South Hills.

The Liberty Bridge in 1928.
The Liberty Bridge in 1928, shortly after the March dedication. Tha span towers over
all other Monongahela River bridges in Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle.

Five months later, in August 1928 the City of Pittsburgh was privileged to announce another major transportation improvement, the grand opening of the Mount Washington Roadway, later renamed McArdle Roadway. Once again, South Hills motorists were given another convenient, time-saving route to get home to Brookline, Beechview and other southern destinations.

Pittsburgh's Liberty Bridge
(National Register of Historic Places - 1988)

Liberty Bridge two weeks before opening.
The Liberty Bridge On March 12, 1928, two weeks before the grand opening.

The Liberty Bridge and the
Liberty Tunnels North Portal in 1928.
The Liberty Bridge and the Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in August 1928, shortly after the opening
of another major South Hills traffic improvement, the Mount Washington (McCardle) Roadway.

Bumber to bumper traffic on May 17, 1932.
Bumper to bumper traffic outbound on May 17, 1932.

Liberty Bridge view from North Portal - 1933.
The Liberty Bridge in 1933. The traffic circle outside the tunnels is being removed.

Liberty Bridge view from North Portal - 1933.
Pedestian, vehicular and horse-drawn traffic passes over the Liberty Bridge in 1933.

The Liberty Bridge in 1936.
The Liberty Bridge and the North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1936.

Rush hour on the Liberty Bridge - August 10, 1037.
Rush hour traffic on the Liberty Bridge - August 10, 1937.

The Liberty Bridge during a rush
hour traffic jam in 1950.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951 during the height of rush hour traffic.

Cars turn off Liberty Bridge onto
the Boulevard of the Allies - 1951.
Cars make the turn off the Liberty Bridge onto the Boulevard of the Allies in 1951.

The Liberty Bridge with a huge sign on the
north portal of the Liberty Tunnels
announcing the Allegheny County Fair.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951 during mid-day traffic. A large advertisement announces the Allegheny County Free Fair.

The Liberty Bridge during a rush
hour traffic jam in 1950.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951 during the height of the evening rush hour. As is still done today there are three
lanes heading in the outbound direction to accomodate the large numbers of vehicles leaving the city.

The Liberty Bridge - 1951.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951. Note the Balantine Beer sign and clock on the Mount Washington hillside.

The intersection of the Liberty Bridge and the Boulevard of the Allies during rush hour in June 1958.

Traffic congestion during rush hour - June 1958
Three lands of traffic congestion heading outbound during rush hour in June 1958.

Traffic cop outside the Northern Portals - April 20, 1960
A traffic cop mans his post on the southern side of the bridge, outside the Liberty Tunnels on April 20, 1960.

Liberty Bridge - 2004
The Liberty Bridge, shown in 2004, is one of several bridges spanning the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh.

Liberty Bridge - 2009
The Liberty Bridge in 2009, looking south from Second Avenue towards Mount Washington.

Liberty Bridge and the Pittsburgh skyline during daytime - 2011.    Liberty Bridge and the Pittsburgh skyline during daytime - 2011.
The Liberty Bridge in 2011, looking north towards the skyline of Pittsburgh during daytime and evening.

Liberty Bridge - 2012.
The Liberty Bridge in 2012, eighty-four years after the grand opening in March 1928.

Liberty Bridge - 2013.
The Liberty Bridge in 2013, as seen from underneath the span along Second Avenue.

Southern Portal Interchange Proposal - 1957

Proposed plan for new interchange at
 Liberty Tunnels and Route 51 - 1957.

In 1957, this plan for a proposed realignment of the interchange at West Liberty Avenue and Route 51 (Saw Mill Run) at the Liberty Tunnels was highly recommended and very close to becoming a reality. For many years, the city had been searching for a solution to the traffic congestion at this busy intersection. The trolley lines had already been diverted, but The ever-increasing amount of vehicular traffic was the cause of massive rush hour traffic jams. At this time, the tunnels were handling nearly three times their designed capacity.

The proposed plan called for thru-traffic on Saw Mill Run Boulevard to be reouted onto the south face of Mount Washington, beginning near Bausman Street. Traffic would bypass the busy tunnel entrance by traveling over the southern portals to a point at the intersection of Saw Mill Run and Warrington Avenue. Unfortunately for South Hills motorists, the plan fell through. It was not until 1999 that a solution was found to relieve this traffic bottleneck.

Southern Portal Interchange Reconstruction - 1999

The new South Portal
 Interchange - 1999.

This is a 1999 graphic showing the new South Portal Interchange at the intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard. For decades the city had been trying to find a way to ease the traffic congestion at the entrance to the tunnels, which were now being used by over 80,000 vehicles per day. At rush hour, the delays could run upwards of one hour.

Finally, after years of frustration, the city acted. By the end of the 20th century the new interchange was in place and traffic congestion was lessened to a large degree.

The Liberty Tunnels Interchange at night.
Vehicle and overhead lighting glimmers along the Liberty Tunnels Interchange in the early evening.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction (2011-2014)

The Liberty Bridge in 1940.
Liberty Tunnel Reconstruction - 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.    Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.
Liberty Tunnel Reconstruction - 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.    Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.
Liberty Tunnel Reconstruction - 2013.

Reconstruction work on the
South Portal - July 1, 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - July 1, 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.    Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.

Reconstruction work on the
South Portal - July 1, 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.    Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - October 3, 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.

Reconstruction work on the
North Portals - October 26, 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - October 26, 2013.

Vintage Postcards Of The Liberty Tunnels And Bridge

Postcard showing the south portals
of the Liberty Tunnels in 1926.
The South Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in a postcard from 1926.

The northern portals of the Liberty Tunnels
and the traffic circle in the early 1930s.    The northern portals of the Liberty Tunnels
and the traffic circle in the early 1930s.
Postcards from the early 1930s showing the North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels and the traffic circle.

Postcard showing the renovated north
portal of the Liberty Tunnels. The
large circular monument was removed
and replaced by a smaller traffic signal.
The North Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in a postcard from the early-1940s.

The Liberty Bridge - 1939    The Liberty Bridge - 1939
Postcards from the early 1930s showing the Liberty Bridge, looking to the south (left) and towards downtown.

Liberty Bridge.
The Liberty Bridge in the late-1930s.

Related Links

The Old Bell House Tavern at Saw Mill Run - 1890
Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon Railroad
The South Hills Streetcar Junction
Streetcar Service in Brookline
Coal Hill/Mount Washington
Boulevard Of The Allies
West Liberty Avenue Reconstruction - 1915
Saw Mill Run Road at West Liberty Avenue - 1925
Saw Mill Run Road at West Liberty Avenue - 1931
History of Saw Mill Run Boulevard

Twin-Tube Auto Repair at the intersection
with Saw Mill Run Road in 1925.    The Tunnel View Hotel at the intersection
of West Liberty Avenue and Warrington Avenue.
Two businesses that took their name from the Liberty Tunnels were the Twin-Tube Auto Repair (left) and the
Tunnel View Hotel, both at the intersection of West Liberty and Warrington, shown here in 1925.

<Historical Facts> <> <Brookline History>