A 1924 postcard showing the Southern Portals
of the Liberty Tunnels along West Liberty Avenue.
of the Liberty Tunnels and Bridge
♦ Additional Photos and Related Links ♦
The Liberty Bridge on April 30, 1937.
Early South Hills
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
alternative, the Bell Tavern or "low" tunnel, was adopted by the County
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
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.
The "High" Tunnel Or The "Low"
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 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
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.
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
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
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,
The intersection of West Liberty Avenue and
Warrington Avenue in 1918 before the Liberty Tunnels.
Ground-breaking For The Liberty
Ground-breaking 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."
"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.
The Tunnel Bore
The second construction milestone in the
life of the Liberty Tubes occured on April 9, 1920, when the boring process began.
The operation was witnessed by a crowd of 100 persons, including county and city
County Commissioner Addison C. Gumbert exploded
the first charge. Fragments of rock were hurled in the direction of the crowd, which
stood some 350 feet from the blast. Small chips of stone struck a couple of the
onlookers, but no one was injured. Two succeeding charges were detonated by Gumbert
and County Controller John P. Moore. The three explosions dislodged approximately
ten tons or rock.
The first official charge of dynamite in the
actual boring of the tubes was detonated on April 9, 1920.
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
Shaking Things Up
Once work began in earnest, progress came quickly.
Each tube is a separate bore (east and west), and they were drilled simultaneously from
both the north and south ends, twenty-six feet apart. The crews for both the east and
west bores worked in two 12-hour shifts, with each shift averaging ten feet per day. This
was a stunning pace, no doubt encouraged by both pay incentives and friendly
Crewmen were payed eleven hours for nine linear
feet in a day and twelve hours for ten, no matter how long it took. Crews worked hard to
finish their day in good time. Also, above the entrance to each bore was a flag pole. There
were two flags, one an American flag and one a black flag. Whichever shift finished the day
first got to hang the American flag above their bore.
Throughout the daily, and nightly, 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".
"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
A working platform inside the tunnel for shoring
up the sidewalls and ceiling. The rail cars were used to haul material.
Streetcars Not Welcome
From the time the first stick of dynamite
went off to build the Twin Tunnels, the Pittsburgh Railways Company began lobbying
the County Commissioners for pass-through rights. Eager to relieve congestion at their
South Hills Junction Complex, the transit firm wanted their streetcars to operate in
In January 1922 it looked like two of the
three commissioners favored this option.
"They will have to show me that it will
not be a good thing to run trolley cars through the Liberty Tunnel," said
Chairman Gumbert. "It is a traffic tunnel, built for all kinds of traffic, and
traffic of course includes street cars."
Engineer A. D. Neeld, on the other hand,
citing future traffic projections declared that "the tunnel should be confined
to foot and vehicular traffic and trolley cars should be barred."
The Pittsburgh Daily Post reported on February
24 that the people of Dormont, Mount Lebanon and Brookline, whose routes would be
affected, had no interest in having streetcars in the tunnel. Burgess William Best
presented the commissioners with a Dormont Council resolution opposing the
Politicians are much maligned and often
for good reason. But sometimes they have great foresight. In what proved to be
one of the smartest acts ever recorded on the public record, on March 6, 1922, the
County Commissioners passed a resolution stating that "there shall be no street
car franchises granted for use in the Liberty Tubes."
The Two Ends Meet
The boring of the 5889 foot tubes was
completed on May 11, 1922 at 10:15am when County Commissioner James Houlahen
closed the switch that exploded a charge of dynamite that blew away the final
rock and earth that seperated the north and south bore of the western (outbound).
Approximately 300 representatives of the
county and city governments, civic organizations and others witnessed the ceremony.
The party entered from the north end to a point about 500 feet from the portal
opening, where a switch was mounted. When the switch was thrown a terrific
explosion rent through the air, followed by a shower of rocks and debris. As the
smoke cleared, streaks of daylight filtered through.
Top - City and county officials at the northern
entrance of the Liberty Tunnel awaiting the final blast
which opened the west tube. Bottom - Officials on arrival at the southern
entrance of the tunnel.
The crowd climbed over rocks and construction
materials to the center of the tube where platforms had been erected. Short
addresses were made by Commissioner Houlahen, President Daniel Winters of city
council, former County Commissioner Gilbert Myer and others.
A. D. Neeld, consulting engineer on the
tunnel project, informed the crowd that the two ends of the eastern (inbound) tube
were only 1,500 feet apart at that time, and it was expected to be opened within
the next ninety days.
Showing the hole made by the last blast seperating
south and north openings of the west tube on March 11, 1922.
L to R: R.L. Lee, A.D. Neeld, James Houlahen, J.B. Snow, George H.
Flinn and M.L. Quinn.
The Best Rock Tunnel
Tunnel engineers received a glowing review
on their achievements to date when, on April 8, 1922, Clifford M. Holland, the chief
engineer in charge of the New York-New Jersey tubes, and Robert Ridgeway, chief
engineer of the traffic commission of New York, visited Pittsburgh to inspect
the progress of the bore. They declared the design and construction to be the
finest they had ever seen.
"Pittsburgh people have cause to congratulate
themselves on this work," said Mr. Holland. "It is the best rock tunnel I have
ever seen. I saw not a flaw in the work today, and the progress on construction is a
world's record. I never before saw a tunnel driven where the excavation was in a
complete section, as is this work. Usually a section is excavated at the top, then
a second slice taken off, and sometimes the work progresses in three
Ridgeway was also enthusiastic. "I
look for flaws," he said, "but I confess I found none."
Boring proceeds on the Liberty Tunnels in 1921,
as seen from the South Portal entrance along West Liberty Avenue.
Note the flag poles above each tunnel entrance. The American Flag flutters
over the east bore, indicating
that the men working the prior shift had finished their daily quota before those
in the west bore.
"Structural Design And Ventilation Of Liberty
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
Now the work of finishing the walls and
installing the tunnel infrastructure began. It would take another year of
back-breaking work before, in August of 1923, the paving of the concrete road
surface was underway and the project nearing completion.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Grand Opening Of The
In December 1923, the tunnels themselves
had been completed for well over a month, but the opening delayed while work
progressed on the air flow issues. Public sentiment favored opening the tube to
traffic immediately. Even engineer Clifford Holland chimed in, expressing shock
at the delay in opening the tunnels.
With months remaining before the ventilation
system would be operational, the County gave in to the increasing pressure and,
despite all warnings, opened the Liberty Tunnels for the first time to all-day
traffic on January 30, 1924.
The decision was greeted with enthusiastic
fanfare by the public. Strictly enforced speed restrictions were placed on motorists
in an effort to keep the toxic fumes to a minimum and air quality tests were done
A Freehold Real Estate advertisement
Considered an engineering marvel, in 1924
the twin tubes were the longest automobile tunnels in the world, holding that
distinction until the opening of New York's Holland Tunnel in 1927. In addition to
motorized transportation, horse-drawn wagons were permitted to use the tunnels
(a practice that continued until 1933), and a well-trodden pedestrian walkway was
present in each tube.
The total cost of the project was $5,994,642.83
to be exact, which was approximately $1.5 million over the original estimate. Despite
the added cost, the economic benefit to the city, county and the entire South Hills
would more than make up for the expense.
Because of the Twin Tubes, 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
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
Unfortunately, while jurisdictional
strikes and other issues delayed implementation of the vital forced air flow,
that luck ran out. On a sunny morning in May, the proper combination of
events led to the crisis that Dr. Fieldner from the Bureau of Mines had
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.
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.
"Courage, Cool Courage, Looms Large As Day's
Crisis Reveals Unsung Heroes"
Pittsburgh Press - May 10, 1924
The Ventilation System
Until a solution could be found, the city
began counting vehicles and tunnel use was restricted. The lack of a proper
ventilation system was an unheeded concern, one that should have been averted
except for labor difficulties and the unexpected presence of abandoned mine
workings deep underground that required special considerations.
On April 23, 1923, work was progressing nicely
with the ventilation system. The picture on the left shows the
eastern shaft which was nearing completion. The other shows two workmen entering the
shaft vias a bucket.
Work had begun in early 1923 on drilling
the ventilation shafts from points atop Mount Washington directly above each tube.
Work was progressing nicely in April 1923, but was soon halted when the undocumented
mines were encountered 150 feet below the surface.
Engineers worked with the U.S Bureau of
Mines to overcome those difficulties, but the solution took time to create and
implement. When completed the ventilation system consisted of two pairs of specially
designed concrete and steel reinforced 192-foot vertical shafts.
Ventilation intake and exhaust shafts were
installed near the center of each tube.
The dual shafts continuously pumped fresh air
into the center of the tunnels while simultaneously pumping air out from a mechanical
plant located on Mount Washington, creating a directional air flow in each tube.
Each of the massive fan units consists of a multi-blade wheel 115 inches in diameter
by 54 inches long. Electric power was provided by two 11,000 volt supply
Progress as of December 11, 1923 on the building
that would house the ventilation system and control center.
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 were
Ventilation for the LibertyTunnels is provided
by this power plant, located atop Mount Washington along Secane
Avenue. The plant, opened in 1924, can push 1,100,000 cubic feet of air per minute
through the tunnels.
"Exhaust-And-Supply Ventilation Of A Long Street
Engineering News-Record - Volume 94 -
Pittsburgh's revolutionary tunnel ventilation
system worked fine for automobile traffic and the occupant's of those vehicles who,
for the most part, were not confined inside the tunnels for long periods of time.
It did not, however, have the same positive effect for pedestrians walking the entire
length of the dark, dank tunnel.
On October 17, 1926, Miss Aileen McLaughlin,
aged 17, of 2815 Kenilworth Avenue in Brookline, was overcome by carbon monoxide
fumes while walking through the southbound Liberty tube and collapsed on the
Passing motorist W.C. Burkin, of 6618 Bethel
Place, saw her fall and stopped his vehicle. Burkin helped Miss McLaughlin into his
vehicle and transported her to Mercy Hospital, where she recovered after a short
stay in the emergency room.
Policemen on duty at the tunnel, when asked
about tunnel-walkers, said that approximately fifty people walk through the tunnels
on a daily basis. For these people, the risk of carbon monoxide exposure was a real
concern, but luckily there were only a few incidents like Miss McLaughlin over the
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.
Imagine the effort Miss Aileen McLaughlin made along Carson Street and Brownsville
Road just to get to this point.
Now she must walk the 1.12 miles through the tunnel to West Liberty Avenue,
through the heat and fumes.
This might have been a daily thing for the young lady, trudging home through
High atop Mount Washington, in the ventilation
building, was a finely tuned instrument that kept a constant check on the amount of
carbon monoxide in the Liberty Tunnels. The device was a carbon monoxide recorder
that calibrated minutely the amount of the deadly, odorless, colorless and tasteless
gas in the tubes.
It was wired to an alarm system which flashed
on a yellow light and sounded a buzzer when the fumes became even the slightest bit
heavy. A red light signalled when the amount of gas reached a critical level. The
ultra-sensitive equipment was kept in an air-tight glass cage.
Most of the time, the reading was around one
unit in 10,000 units of air. At 3:15pm on November 23, 1935, the gas had reached
1.63 units. Two hours later, when the evening peak traffic was on, it had jumped to
six units and the buzzer was sounding. This lasted less than five minutes, as the
equipment monitor also controlled the amount of airflow being pumped from the
ventilation building down into the tubes.
Thomas W. Moran monitors the carbon monoxide
detection equipment, the mainspring of the ventilation system in the
Liberty Tunnels. The graph to the right shows the varying amount of the deadly
gas present in the each tube.
Six units of monoxide can make a person
nauseous. Ten parts can make a person sick to the stomach. Twenty will make someone
very sick. A couple breaths of 200 units in 10,000 is all it takes to
The July 24, 1953, Pittsburgh Press ran an
article reporting that during rush hour the readings were a bit over five parts
per 10,000, which were hazardous and causing concern. Also discussed was the
cumulative effect of the carbon monoxide fumes on the traffic cops that stood
at the exit and entrance for hours at a time. It was agreed that the officers
were in harms way, not only from the onrushing traffic, but from the air they
As if vehicle exhaust did not create
enough smoke, on June 15, 1967, the Pittsburgh Press reported on a fire outside
the ventilation building that burned through the double doors and sent a long
stream of murky smoke through the fresh air vents down into the southbound tube.
The situation was brought under control within a short time, but it took some
time to clear the tunnel of the thick, dark smoke.
Then, ten days later, memories of the
May 1924 carbon monoxide crisis were revisited when a three-car accident stalled
500 cars, trucks and buses in the southbound tube. During the 45-minute delay,
a number of motorists became sick from exhaust fumes.
Two county policemen attending the accident
were also overwhelmed. The officers, Andrew Hungerman and Daniel Brady, and others
who had taken ill were sent to Mercy Hospital. A detector malfunction was blamed
for the failure of the ventilation system to disperse the smoke. Partial blame was
also placed on motorists who left their vehicles running during the lengthy
Despite ongoing efforts over the years
to remedy the problem with the toxic fumes, the problem has never really solved.
As the amount of thru-traffic continues to increase, new calls go out every few
years to address the issue. This pattern has persisted to this day.
If an ambulance was headed towards the
tunnels from either north or south, a call would go into the police office in
the tunnel and the officers would spring into action. One would barricade the
left lane in either the east or west tunnel and a motorcycle officer would
stand ready to provide an escort through the tunnel and on to the destination
Officer R.L. Carr waits for an incoming
ambulance while Officer Joe Sarachman mans a barricade on August 16, 1952.
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 a ramp to Arlington
Avenue (called Brownsville Road at the time), then heading downhill to Carson Street
and across the Smithfield Street Bridge. The resulting congestion was relieved by
the construction of the Liberty Bridge.
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. The plans above show a completely different configuration for the northern
approaches, with a different path for the proposed Boulevard of the Allies along with a Fourth Avenue Viaduct and Sixth Avenue extension
to Second Avenue.
Expectations were that work on this span
would begin shortly after the Liberty Tunnels were complete in January, 1924,
but that did not happen. Along with the design proposal shown above, several
other variations were put forth for northern and southern approaches and studies
were initiated, causing delays. Another design version had the northern ramps
joining Shingiss Street and a Sixth Avenue Viaduct along with the current
Boulevard of the Allies design. Further postponements came when the city was
delayed in getting approval for the bond issue necessary to fund the
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, Mount Washington (McArdle)
Roadway, the Armstrong tunnels, construction of the County Office Building and
numerous 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
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
Progress of the bridge construction as of
October 24, 1926.
The final bridge design called for
construction of three retaining walls along the northern approaches. Two
smaller walls, one along the upper Bluff and another along the Pennsylvania
Railroad car yard were needed, in addition to a massive wall along the
mass of the hillside. A large cut into the Bluff was necessary to clear the
path for the lower ramps to connect to Forbes Avenue.
Booth and Flinn began work on the walls
in March 1927. The main sloping wall was one of the highest of its type in the
world, rising ninety feet from ground level, with long anchor beams embedded in
the rock and attached to the concrete, making it an integral part of the
hillside. Over 350,000 cubic feet of earth and rock were removed during the
eleven month project, which was completed in January 1928.
The large retaining wall along the north
approach under construction on October 28, 1927.
At the time Liberty Bridge was completed
in March 1928, it was the highest (670 feet above water level) and the costliest
span built in Allegheny County, coming in at $3.436 million. Some said that the
construction of the bridge was "one of the most pretentious projects ever
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 on
June 15, 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 nineteen and a half feet wide, leading to the Boulevard of the Allies and Forbes Avenue.
Mount Washington (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.
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. In time, as traffic increased, this large circle became a hindrance to
smooth vehicular flow. In 1933 the circle was condensed to facilitate better traffic
flow at the intersection.
Another early improvement was the placing of
heavy reinforced concrete guard rails placed along 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.
Pouring concrete for the installation of
guard rails on August 29, 1935.
A Dangerous Intersection
Another problem that became evident just 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
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
The traffic circle outside the North Portals was condensed in 1933
and then it was finally removed altogether in the 1940s.
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.
Traffic management was also a big issue
that needed to be addressed. At the time, there were no traffic signals at
either end of the tunnels. Furthermore, the traffic pattern inside the tunnels
themselves was a nightmare, exacerbating the conditions outside. In the dimly
lit tubes, vehicles could change lanes at will, large trucks could drive in the
center, and horse-drawn wagons were still allowed to pass through.
The traffic circle at the tunnel entrance
was condensed in 1933 and removed altogether in the 1940s.
Compounding the issue on the northern end
of the tunnels was the traffic circle at the intersection of the tunnel portals
and Mount Washington (McArdle) Roadway. By 1930 the circle had become a serious
impediment to the traffic flow and a serious safety issue.
Finally, in 1933, the circle was condensed
to a point that tunnel traffic had a straight approach onto the bridge and county
policeman were positioned at the crossroads to direct traffic. In time, traffic
lights were installed outside the portals. The circle and "Liberty" monument were
removed altogether in the 1940s.
This traffic signal (left) was installed at
the southern end of the tunnels as an experiment on September 1, 1937.
The light was made permanent shortly after, and later a small shed was built
to house a traffic officer.
This is the shed on December 2, 1941, after it was knocked over by an errant
Another improvement was adding two
additional lanes, for the left turn onto Saw Mill Run Boulevard, at the south
plaza. Change came slowly, and it was until the late-1930s that most of
these problems properly addressed, and even then, driving conditions both
inside the dark, hazy tunnels and outside at the often congested southern and
northern intersections remained a problem for years to come.
A view to the south from atop the South
Portals on May 16, 1954. The "No Left Turn" notation was a
reminder that left turns into the tunnels from Saw Mill Run Boulevard
were now prohibited.
Despite two-plus decades worth of efforts
at correcting the status of the southern intersection, the March 19, 1956,
Pittsburgh Press identified the Saw Mill Run/West Liberty intersection as the
#1 most dangerous intersection (out of a field of forty-seven), with a total of
ninety-nine accidents in 1955.
War Rationing Brings Other
Flat tires were also a concern inside the
tunnels, especially during World War II when rubber was a military necessity and
new tires were not available. The stalled vehicles caused traffic to back up and
the vehicles themselves were difficult to remove. Motorists often had to drive
out of the tube on the flattened tire, with the metal rim tearing the tire to
Property and Supplies Director Harry
Aufderheide and Police Sergeant Ernest Andrew
are shown testing one of the new "jack on wheels" on August 26,
In 1943, an average of three vehicles a
day were getting flat tires while driving through the tubes. To assist with that
problem, the county purchased three "jacks on wheels," metal cradles with wheels.
A flat tire was lowered into the cradle and the owner could then drive out of the
tunnel without doing further damage to the tire.
Liberty Tubes - A Toll
On July 7, 1934 an article ran in the
Pittsburgh Press discussing the pros and cons of Allegheny County charging a
toll (five cents) for South Hills motorists to use the Liberty Tunnels. The
purpose of this toll was to pay for the many road projects scheduled to occur
in the Pittsburgh and the South Hills. Saw Mill Run Boulevard had recently been completed and there were
projects proposed to build the West End Bypass and the Fort Duquesne Tunnel and Bridge, connecting the Banksville Traffic Circle with
The debate lasted for two years, and
caused quite a political divide among city and county officials, not to mention
concerned residents of the South Hills. Many feared that this toll would isolate
the area, and force motorists to bypass the tunnel altogether for alternate paths
over Mount Washington, further increasing traffic congestion.
Another objection was that this would set
a precedent, allowing the 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.
Meetings called by the Brookline Board of
Trade in late-1933 and early-1934, held at Brookline School, brought concerned
citizens from the South Hills together to protest the plan. Similar meetings were
held in Dormont, Overbrook, Beechview and Mount Lebanon. South Hills residents
drafted several resolutions to city and county officials condemning the
Concerned citizens gather at Hillsdale School
in Dormont to protest the county's toll proposal. The residents formed
an organization to fight the tolls at "any cost." The group
even drafted correspondence to President Roosevelt.
Although the County Commissioners were
in favor of the project and ready to begin putting the plan into effect, and City
Council voted to support the measure, Mayor John S. Herron vetoed their bill. The
council did not have enough votes to override. This development left the County
Commissioners in a bind.
When the county indicated that they were
prepared to install toll booths in the southern approach to the tunnels, the
city threatened to station police officers on site to allow motorists to pass
without paying the charge.
In July 1935, some interesting statistics
were presented regarding the effect of the Liberty Tunnels on the South Hills and
the associated increase in tax revenue collected by the county. In 1915, before the
tubes were built, the assessed valuation of property in Dormont was $4,269,610
compared to $17,241,820 in 1935. Valuations in Mount Lebanon went from $3,65,610 to
$28,456,400. Other communities had similar increases, meaning that the county has
already benefited substantially from the tunnels.
Finally, in November 1935, after further
political wrangling and intervention from the federal government opposing the plan,
the toll proposal was dropped, and funding for the continuing expansion of the road
network in the South Hills came from other sources, some of which would consist of
federal grants. 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
Here We Go Again
The toll debate was briefly revisited in
1978 when Councilwoman Michelle Madoff proposed a ten cent toll for all commuters
from the southern suburbs (non-city residents) using the Liberty Tunnels and Bridge
to enter downtown Pittsburgh. City residents would be issued a free pass. The
proceeds would be used for bridge and tunnel maintenance. The measure was soundly
The Tunnel Jail
On March 23, 1975, the Pittsburgh Press
reported that back in March 1938, the County, which owned and operated the
tubes, installed a jail cell in the county police office at the northern
end. It was to "house any violators caught in the tubes, or escaping over the
Liberty Bridge, until a patrol wagon could be sent to cart them off to
Before that, county police had to leave
their post and take a prisoner to a police station or guard him in a closed
office. It is not known exactly how long the jail cell was in use, but it was
reportedly removed when the state took over the tubes in 1962.
Liberty Tunnels Improvements - 1938/1965
The tunnels received their first maintenance
improvements beginning on July 25, 1938. Repair work included paving, sewer overhaul,
fixing numerous cracks in the walls and ceiling, water-proofing and painting. New
sodium lights would be installed along with reflective porcelain tile along the walls
to increase illumination inside the dark tunnel.
Detours were posted for South Hills motorists
during the 1938 southbound tunnel closure.
The sodium lights were so bright that for the
first time since the opening of the tubes in 1924, the "Lights On" requirement was
removed. The thirteen month project was completed on August 28, 1939.
In another first for Pittsburgh and the
Liberty Tunnels, temporary antennas were installed in 1939 to provide AM radio
reception. Three aerials, all originating from the ventilator building on Mount
Washington and strung down the air shafts, were installed in each tube. One was
located along the ceiling and one along the top of each tile wall.
The inbound tube on January 4, 1940, brightly lit
with sodium lighting and white porcelain tile walls.
Radio reception inside the tunnel was
something radio engineers considered impossible due to the grounding of so many
tons of steel. However, with the cooperation of KDKA radio engineers, the
experiment was a success. County electrical engineers ironed out the kinks in
the system and gradually improved the quality of the reception.
Finally, in April 1941, intensifier
amplifiers were installed at the base of the aerials, where they emerged from
the air shafts. This increased and clarified reception to a degree where even
radio signals from a considerable distance away from Pittsburgh were picked up.
This was a relief for motorists caught inching along slowly during the long rush
hour traffic jams who relied on KDKA radio, or other station, for the latest
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
on June 6, 1965. The inbound tube was closed due a four-month
tunnel rehabilitation project. It would be a decade before
the tunnel got a proper facelift.
Another round of upgrades were performed
in 1965, three years after the state assumed responsibility for the tunnels.
Twenty-five years had passed since the last renovation, and much had changed.
The roadway was now rutted in from end-to-end, the lighting system was failing
and the overall condition of the tunnels was poor. It had become so dark inside
the tunnels that the "headlights on" requirement was back in force.
Former Pittsburgher Louis Primavera,
in town visiting from Brooklyn NY, had a gripe for the state. "During my stay
I had occasion to drive almost every day along Route 51 to the University of
Pittsburgh ... The gripe is about the Liberty Tunnels."
Primavera continued, "The State of
Pennsylvania should be ashamed to keep those vital tunnels in such miserable
conditions! Don't you people believe in light, air and a safe pavement? The
first day I drove through them I really thought there was something wrong with
the steering wheel of my car."
Originally slated to be a comprehensive
$8.5 million renovation, the project was scaled back considerably. An emergency
$1.6 million upgrade included road resurfacing, overhaul of the drainage, electrical,
lighting and ventilation systems, and limited structural repairs inside the aging
In the fifty years following their dedication,
these were the only real maintenance projects and upgrades performed on the Liberty
Tunnels. By the early-1970s the tubes were basically the same as originally designed,
and in real need of comprehensive structural and cosmetic rehabilitation.
The Ever-Evolving View of Pittsburgh
Much ado is made of the spectacular visual
display of Pittsburgh when a motorist exits the Fort Pitt Tunnels and the majestic skyline of Pittsburgh and the beauty of the three rivers
instantly come into view.
The same can be said, just not on such a
monumental scale, for the view one gets when exiting the Liberty Tunnels. Over the
years, the optics have changed as the skyline has evolved, but the feeling of wonder
is always the same. Downtown Pittsburgh is a beautiful sight no matter what
entranceway one chooses.
A motorist's view in 1960 (left) and in 1974
(right) as they exited the inbound North Portal heading into Pittsburgh.
The Third Tube
In 1962, the South Hills Committee for
Improved Highways was formed. There was much talk of building a $104 million
South Hills Expressway, a six lane highway from the Liberty Tunnels to the
Washington County line. The expressway would roughly follow the present Route
51 to Route 88, then cut through Whitehall and South Park.
A part of the proposal was the widening
of the Liberty Bridge to six lanes and the boring of a third tunnel next to the
existing Liberty Tunnels, thus creating triplets as far as the tubes were
concerned. The chairman of the South Hills group declared that the expansion
of the bridge and tunnel were essential to the project.
Like so many other ideas that reached
the planning stages and gathered momentum along the way, the ambitious South
Hills Expressway project was cancelled, along with the corresponding expansion
of the bridge and tunnel. Lack of funding and strong opposition from Whitehall
residents doomed the initiative.
A Complete Tunnel Overhaul - 1974/1977
In December 1974, Trumbull Corporation
launched a long overdue $7.2 million renovation of the rapidly deteriorating
Twin Tubes. State Transportation Secretary Jacob G. Kassab labeled the 49-year old
tunnel a "dungeon" and personally led the effort to bring this project from the
planning stages to implementation.
Renovations included a new road bed,
installation of 3000 flourescent light fixtures, 44,000 feet of conduit, 454,000
feet of electrical wiring and new antenna cables for better AM Radio reception.
The long abandoned walkways were removed to enlarge the traffic lanes.
Work began in January 1975. The outbound
tube was closed first, with bi-directional traffic routed through the inbound side.
On December 19, 1975, the outbound side was opened to traffic. After the holiday
season ended, the inbound side was closed, with the bi-directional traffic flow
on the outbound side.
A large hole in the crumbling tile walls (left)
and broken sections of the railing along the walkway in October 1973.
Dirt and grime along the walkway had built up to a depth of over four inches
on long stretches of the walkway.
Another structural problem was falling chunks of the ceiling, which had
damaged a number of vehicles.
On the inside, the old tile walls were taken
down and years of dirt and grime were removed from the inside. The condition of the
concrete walls under the tile was bad, necessitating a near complete resurfacing.
They were then covered in an epoxy to increase brightness. Also installed were
17,000 feet of specially fabricated ceiling drains.
The outside facades of both portals were
also completely remodeled. The deteriorating concrete surface was covered in both
brown brick and COR-TEN steel siding, giving the tunnels what designers considered
a distinctive "Rust Belt" look.
Leaving town, bi-directional traffic at the
inbound tube in December 1975. The outbound portal is blocked off.
Concrete work near the southern portal
in December 1975.
Concrete work inside the Liberty Tunnels
In anticipation of the increased vehicle flow
and traffic congestion during rush hours in the restricted tubes, engineers installed
a large fan near the portal entrance to facilitate additional air flow through the
The ventilation system caused a lower height
restriction for vehicles entering the tunnel. Despite posted signs warning of the
new restrictions, truckers often wedged their rigs in the tunnel under the steel
I-beams supporting the auxiliary vent ducts. PennDot crews had to deflate the tires
and push the trucks out, blocking traffic for hours on occasions.
Working near the north portals (left)
and installing the additional ventilation system in 1975.
Workers installing drain pipes (left) in March
1975 and concrete work at the northern portal in September 1976.
The outbound tube was completed and opened
to traffic on December 19, 1975.
Another issue occurred on January 17, 1975,
when memories of the May 1924 Carbon Monoxide Crisis were again revisited. On this
day police were forced to close the tunnels for a short time when the auxiliary fan
malfunctioned and carbon monoxide levels reached dangerous levels.
After two years of traffic restrictions, work
was completed in February 1977. By that time the cost had risen to $10 million due to
the unexpected degree of damage to the interior walls. These were the last major
repairs done for the next three decades.
The COR-TEN siding and brown brick facade on the
Southern Portals gave them a distinct Rust Belt look.
Project Included Removing
Another improvement made during the tunnel
rehabilitation project was the clearing of the area near the Southern Portals
once occupied by "John's Lumber Company." The abandoned building and was destroyed
on November 23, 1973 in a four-alarm fire and had been sitting in its charred state
John's Lumber Company goes up in flames (left) on
November 23, 1973. The Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
stand in the background of a March 1974 image showing the burnt remains of the lumber
The city purchased the former lumber yard and
the adjacent used car lot. The improvement of this parcel of land was added to the
reconstruction effort. By the time the tunnel project was completed in 1977, the land
had been cleared, but not landscaped, a temporary removal of the blight that had
become an eyesore to South Hills residents.
Unfortunately, the effort ended there, and
within a couple years the area once again had that all too familiar urban blight
look. The city rented the land to an auto repairman, who began storing salvaged
vehicles there. An abandoned flat-bed trailer and an old school bus found there way
onto the property, along with a myriad selection of garbage.
An abandoned flat-bed trailer and other items
of garbage sit on the land next to the Liberty Tunnels.
It wasn't until the mid-1980s that the
condition of the area was properly addressed. The land was again cleared and,
this time, landscaped with a donation from the Western Pennsylvania
PAT South Busway - 1977
One effort at relieving traffic congestion
at the southern end of the tunnels was the PAT South Busway proposal.
In the late-1960s and early-1970s Allegheny County was experimenting with a new
mass transit system called Skybus. It would replace most streetcar and bus routes with a revolutionary
unmanned people mover.
Opponents of the Skybus system proposed
retaining the Port Authority bus fleet and moving traffic off the main roads
onto dedicated busways and creating a network of bus lanes downtown. One such
busway would be constructed in the South Hills, between the South Hills Junction and Glenbury Street in Overbrook.
This graphic showing the path of the proposed
South Busway appeared on October 15, 1971.
The Skybus system was eventually scrapped
and the busway proposals accepted. The South Busway went into operation in 1977.
It removed 95% of the bus traffic that traveled through the southern interchange
and into the tunnel.
This had a positive effect on lessening the
amount of traffic using the tunnels. However, considering the overall amount of car
and trucks still passing through the tubes this was only one piece in an overall
restructuring of the intersection.
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.
The new road surface was poured on the
outbound lane by April of 1983.
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.
Four million pounds of structural steel and over one million rivets were replaced.
Several thousand cubic feet of concrete were poured around the crumbling
Ironworkers made major repairs to the bridge
superstructure. The boat sitting idly down on the
river was a safety precaution in case any of the workers
accidentally fell into the water.
Changes to the bridge included the addition of
240 braces that were attached to both sides to make the span sixteen feet wider.
The bridge 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.
The South 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 1939 and PAT bus traffic was diverted onto the South Busway
in 1978. Although helpful, these improvements did little to address the
ever-increasing flow of automobile traffic.
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. In addition, PennDot had the roadbed inside the tunnels
replaced before the project began.
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.
The Liberty Tunnels South Interchange
in December 2014.
Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2008/2014
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
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.
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 completed Southern Portal entrance
Additional Tunnel Improvements - 2017/2018
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 was completed in December 2018. It included paving inside the tunnel,
upgrading the air monitoring and fire suppression system, and repairs to the roof
and retaining wall. The ventilation system was also overhauled.
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.
The Liberty Tunnels brought growth and
prosperity to the South Hills in the 1920s. Nearly a century later, the iconic
twin tubes are still the primary "Gateway to Suburbia" for the residents of
Brookline and the nearby South Hills communities, and in condition to continue
that role for years to come.
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
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.
The Liberty Bridge on fire
- September 2, 2017.
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.
Construction workers reinforce the critical beam
damaged by the September fire.
When the reconstruction project was completed,
the venerable Liberty Bridge looked better than ever and is in condition to serve City
of Pittsburgh motorists without need of major repairs for the next several
An Dave DiCello print showing the Liberty Bridge
in 1933 superimposed on a picture of modern Pittsburgh.
Photos Of The Liberty Tunnels And Bridge
Click on images for larger pictures
♦ Additional Related Links ♦
The Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
and downtown Pittsburgh beyond Mount Washington in June 2019.
Before the Liberty Tunnels - 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
West Liberty Avenue towards the Mount Washington hillside in July 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
Boring The Tubes - 1921
Dumping The Excavated Debris
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.
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.
Rail cars loaded with debris from the
inbound tube will be hauled to Bausman Street for dumping. At the time
this photo was taken, July 15, 1923, much of the construction work
was completed and the county began
the process of tearing down five frame structures that stood in the way
of the tunnel approaches.
Constructing the North Portals
The north end on July 15, 1923,
showing the retaining wall above the entrance nearly completed.
The Northern Portals stand ready for
traffic on December 30, 1923. The tunnels were scheduled to open in a
couple weeks after air testing was completed. Note all traffic turns
towards Arlington Avenue, then still
called Brownsville Road, due to the absence of the Liberty Bridge, whose
construction had just begun.
Boring The Twin Tubes (1919-1922)
A plan of the drilling holes that was
used during the tunnel excavation.
Construction workers inside
the tunnel bore in April 1921.
Construction workers and a crane inside
the tunnel bore in April 1921.
Sidewalls, forms and traveling incline (left)
for concrete rail cars; Erecting steel forms for arch concrete.
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.
Inbound motorists travel through the tunnel.
Ventilation shafts are visible at the mid-way point.
The South Hills Twin Tubes
Traffic at the Southern Portals was sparse
on this day in March 1924.
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
to be one of the worst in the city. A city-wide effort was initiated to
make several heavily used roadways safer for all forms of traffic.
A traffic safety sign at the entrance to the
Tubes in 1932.
The southern portals, at the intersection
of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard, in 1932.
The southern portals, at the intersection
of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard, 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 South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
on February 28, 1937.
The wider newspaper clipping of the same
February 28, 1937 photo shown above.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
on January 29, 1946.
Soldiers of the Pennsylvania National Guard
were in Pittsburgh to clear snow and restore order after
the Thanksgiving Day Blizzard of 1950. This photo was taken on November 30, five days
after the storm, showing soldiers directing traffic outside the Liberty
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
The south plaza roadway was completely
refurbished and bridge repairs done in May 1954.
The South Portals on March 20,
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
as printed in the Pittsburgh Press on November 10, 1968.
Morning rush hour traffic approaches the
south portals on August 9, 1970.
The Southern Portals in August
Traffic congestion at the South Portals
of the Liberty Tunnels in 1974.
Norfolk and Western tracks alongside the piers
for the new Palm Garden Busway Bridge on March 4, 1975.
The southern portals of the Liberty Tunnels stand below along Saw Mill
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
in 1941 (left) and in 2001. The original facade of the tunnels
had been replaced with the brown brick and steel exterior during a 1975
Approaching the Liberty Tunnels
traffic interchange and the South Portals in 2011.
The South Portals on March 24,
The Northern Portals
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
Avenue to Carson Street. The Smithfield Street Bridge was their gateway
Zooming in on the photo above to show
the northern portals in 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
The outbound Northern Portal, shown here
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
The inbound North Portal (left) in 1933,
as maintenance crews work to clear the busy roadway after a mudslide.
The Mount Washington hillside is unstable, and landslides became a
persistent problem to this day.
Looking down from above the North Portals
on April 20, 1933.
The North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels after
the addition of traffic signals in 1938.
A view of the North Portals from Arlington
Avenue in August 1939.
The Liberty Tunnels in 1939, after the
installation of new lighting and a new road bed.
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
Approaching the tunnels, left turns to McCardle were also eliminated.
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.
County Police divert all traffic from
entering the Liberty Bridge and downtown Pittsburgh after the Thanksgiving
Day Blizzard of 1950. Downtown was off limits while city workers and National
Guardsmen cleared snow.
Approaching the North Portals of the Liberty
Tunnels in the 1950s.
Cars exiting the inbound Northern Portal
(left) in 1953 and entering the outbound portal in 1970.
The Northern Portals in February
The Northern Portals on June 7,
The Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
The Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
during initial reconstruction work in 2012.
Thousands Overcome By Automobile Exhaust
May 10, 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,
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,
PLUNGE INTO TUBES
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.
TORTURED WITH GAS
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
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.
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
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
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
Ammonia was sprayed in the tubes
by the disaster squads of the bureau of mines to counteract the carbon
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 *
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
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.
POLICE TAKE CHARGE
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
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 *
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 Ventilation
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.
One of the eight large electric motors
that power the tunnel ventilation system.
One of the four giant fans that blow
fresh air down a shaft and into the center of the tunnels.
Liberty Bridge Construction
Two photos showing an early artist's conception
of the proposed Liberty Bridge before construction began. Note
the elevated off ramp design at the north end along the Duquesne Bluff, with
the inbound ramp joining with
Shingiss Street before reaching Forbes Avenue. The southern approach is also
A later artist's conception showing the
actual off ramp configuration on both northern and southern ends.
Working at the caisson for the southern
pier of the Liberty Bridge in August 1925.
Work begins on southern approaches to the
Liberty Bridge in December 1925.
Work begins on southern approaches to the
Liberty Bridge in December 1925.
Construction of the piers that would
support the Liberty Bridge as it crosses the Monongahela River.
The bridge span extends from the approaches
at the southern (left) and northern ends on February 4, 1927.
The bridge span extends a bit further and
is now over the banks of the Monongahela River
at the southern (left) and northern ends on March 16, 1927.
Work proceeds along the southern section of
the bridge deck as the cranes move steadily forward along tracks.
The southern end of the bridge extends further
over the Monongahela River, braced by falseworks, on April 8, 1928.
The northern end of the bridge continues to
extend over the Monongahela River on April 8, 1928.
The northern end of the bridge extending
over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad yards on April 8, 1928.
Work beginning on the Boulevard of the Allies
ramps (left) and the two bridge sections nearing on June 6, 1927.
The two bridge sections were joined in the
middle on June 15, 1927.
Ironworkers attaching the beams that
connected the southern and northern ends of the bridge.
Looking south at the joining of the two
sections of the Bridge on June 15, 1927.
A view of bridge construction from the
Boulevard of the Allies on October 12, 1927.
Greater Pittsburgh - The New Liberty
Bridge - March 10, 1928.
The Liberty Bridge on March 12, 1928, two weeks
before the grand opening.
Work proceeds on the traffic circle at the
southern end of the bridge on March 12, 1928.
A view of the completed bridge on the
day before the dedication on March 26, 1928.
Retaining Wall Construction on North Approach
The Bluff Hillside, covered in billboards, on
July 13, 1921. The Boulevard of the Allies and subsequent Liberty Bridge
construction required substantial excavation and cuts into the hillside and
Conditions at Forbes Avenue in March
1927 (left) and the beginning of the Bluff excavation in April.
Beginning the construction of the high
wall along the Bluff in April 1927.
The lower wall along the Pennsylvania
Railroad car yard extending to Forbes Avenue in June 1927.
The lower wall at Forbes Avenue (left)
and work proceeds with the hillside excavation in June 1927.
Conditions during the excavation of the
hillside in June 1927.
The beginning of the sloping retaining
wall at Forbes Avenue in July 1927.
Excavations along Shingiss Street and
the first sections of the main retaining wall in July 1927.
350,000 cubic feet of earth and rock were
hauled away from the cut one truckload at a time.
Two views of the hillside excavation. At its
peak, the retaining wall would rise ninety feet.
Excavation at the Boulevard of the Allies
Viaduct One in July 1927. The bridge ramps to Forbes Avenue
would extend through the viaduct, under the broad boulevard and over
The excavation was complete in September
1927 and work was beginning on the tall section of the retaining wall.
Two views of the sloping wall as it rises
in sections in October 1927. Long anchor beams were pounded into
the rock and attached to the cement wall, making the wall an integral part of
The sloping wall was considered the
highest of its kind in world at the time of construction.
Workers for Booth and Flinn at work
building the upper sections of the sloping wall.
A view of the Forbes Avenue exit
in 1951, before the Crosstown Boulevard ramps were built.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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)
The Liberty Bridge as seen from the
Bluff looking south on April 16, 1928.
Cars enter the bridge off ofthe Boulevard
of the Allies north ramp on May 28, 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)
Bumper to bumper traffic outbound on May 17,
The Liberty Bridge in 1933. The traffic
circle outside the tunnels is being removed.
Pedestian, vehicular and horse-drawn traffic
passes over the Liberty Bridge in 1933.
The southern half of the Liberty Bridge
on April 20, 1936.
The Liberty Bridge and the North Portals of the
Liberty Tunnels in 1936.
Rush hour traffic on the Liberty Bridge
- August 10, 1937.
Liberty Bridge traffic is rerouted during
an outbound tunnel closure on March 13, 1939.
Repaving the pavement of the inbound
lanes on June 5, 1942.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951 during the height
of rush hour traffic.
Cars make the turn off the Liberty Bridge
onto the Boulevard of the Allies in 1951.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951 during mid-day
traffic. A large advertisement announces the Allegheny County Free Fair.
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 in 1951. Note
the Balantine Beer sign and clock on the Mount Washington hillside.
On May 16, 1952, this car blew a tire in
the tunnels, lost control on the bridge, crossed the divider and bounced
over the four-foot retaining wall, coming to a stop lodged on the
sidewalk between the wall and the bridge rail.
Two of the four occupants were injured. It took special tow trucks to remove
the car from the bridge.
A welder working on the cover plate at one
of the expansion joints on June 5, 1956.
The intersection of the Liberty Bridge and the
Boulevard of the Allies during rush hour in June 1958.
Three lands of traffic congestion heading
outbound during rush hour in June 1958.
A traffic cop mans his post on the southern
side of the bridge, outside the Liberty Tunnels on April 20, 1960.
Approaching the North Portals of the Liberty
Tunnels in 1973.
Reconstruction the lower part of McArdle
Roadway at the northern tunnel intersection on November 14, 1974
in preparation for the 1974-1977 Liberty Tunnel renovation project.
The Liberty Bridge, shown in 2004, is one of
several bridges spanning the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh.
The Liberty Bridge in 2009, looking south
from Second Avenue towards Mount Washington.
The Liberty Bridge in 2011, looking north
towards the skyline of Pittsburgh in the evening.
The Liberty Bridge in 2011, looking north
towards the skyline of Pittsburgh in the daytime.
The Liberty Bridge in 2012, eighty-four years
after the grand opening in March 1928.
The Liberty Bridge in 2013, as seen from
underneath the span along Second Avenue.
Portal Interchange Proposals - 1938/1957
This plan for the South Interchange was
published on February 8, 1938.
Due to the ever-increasing amount of
vehicular traffic congestion at the southern end of the Liberty Tunnels,
and the resulting massive rush hour traffic jams, plans were put in place
the 1930s for a redesign of the southern interchange. At this time, the tunnels
were handling nearly three times their designed capacity.
City planners made public this ambitious
plan for what they called Liberty Plaza in February 1938. The interchange diverted
thru-traffic around the intersection and facilitated a more uninterupted flow of
vehicles. In addition, the West Liberty Avenue trolley lines would be diverted
onto the Beechview line, via a trolley tamp, and over the Palm Garden Trestle to the South Hills Junction.
This plan for the South Interchange as
published on in the Pittsburgh Press on August 4, 1939.
The proposed $1 million 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.
Traffic congestion at the south end of
the Liberty Tunnels, shown here on August 21, 1951. One improvement
made in 1954 was passage of a bill making it illegal to make the dangerous
left turn into the tunnels.
Beginning in 1951, these turns had been restricted to peak morning and evening
rush hours only.
This was a popular route for Mount Washington motorists wanting to use
The trolley ramp was built, but the
remainder of this project was put on hold. Twenty years later, in 1957, the
plan was put back on the table. Once again it was highly recommended and
very close to becoming a reality. Once again the project was
An overhead view of the proposed southern
interchange as published in 1957.
The issue was revisited in 1970 when
$16.8 million was budgeted for a massive reconstruction of the southern
interchange. As in the past the plan never materialized as the money was
allocated to supplement other road improvement projects.
Unfortunately for frustrated South Hills
motorists, it took another twenty-nine years before a solution was found and
funded to relieve this traffic bottleneck. A new South Interchange was
dedicated in 1999 and the results were wonderful. Seventy-five years of
frustration were wiped clean in one brilliant stroke.
In addition to the proposal for an
upgraded Southern Interchange, the Post-Gazette, on March 8, 1957, reported
that studies were being done on a restructuring of the Northern Interchange,
with a grade seperation between McArdle Roadway and the bridge.
This plan for the North Interchange was
published on May 13, 1958.
Somewhat similar to the changes on the
southern side, McArdle Roadway would be diverted to pass over the Northern
Portals via an overpass to connect with Arlington Avenue. The southern end of
the bridge would be widened, and a series of connecting ramps that included
one that looped under the span. This would eliminate the need for traffic
signals at the north end of the tunnels. Removing the ground level intersections
were intended to facilitate the continuous movement of traffic.
This ambitious $4 million project was
put on hold, pending an evaluation of the effects of the Fort Pitt Tunnels
and bridge, which were under construction at the time. When the new tunnels
opened, traffic flow through the Liberty Tunnels experienced a 31% decrease,
from 58,000 to 37,500 daily. Although this proved to be only a temporary
improvement, but enough to abandon the interchange proposal.
Southern Portal Interchange Reconstruction - 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.
Vehicle and overhead lighting glimmers
along the Liberty Tunnels Interchange in the early morning rush hour.
Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction (2008-2014)
Liberty Tunnel Reconstruction - 2013.
Liberty Tunnel Reconstruction - 2013.
Liberty Tunnel Reconstruction - 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Southern Portals
of the Liberty Tunnels - July 1, 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Southern Portals
of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Southern Portals
of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Northern Portals
of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Northern Portals
of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Northern Portals
of the Liberty Tunnels - October 26, 2013.
Vintage Postcards Of The Liberty Tunnels And Bridge
The South Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in
a postcard from 1926.
Postcards from the early 1930s showing the
North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels and the traffic circle.
The North Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in
a postcard from the late-1920s.
The North Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in
a postcard from the early-1940s.
Postcards from the early 1930s showing the Liberty
Bridge, looking to the south (left) and towards downtown.
The Liberty Bridge in the late-1930s.
Holiday Traffic Nightmares
The 1950s were the golden age of Sci-Fi thrillers.
Flying saucers and men from Mars were all the rage. On September 2, 1957, Post-Gazette
staff writer Kent Goddard wrote this short Sci-Fi piece with a Pittsburgh twist. The
story revolves around a space traveler's frustration with the stifling atmosphere of
Labor Day weekend traffic congestion inside the Liberty Tubes.
Frightened Flying Saucer Pilot Flees Labor Day Crush
And Don't Think It
Can't Happen Here, Either
Startled motorists were stunned yesterday when
what appeared to be a foreign sports car shot skyward from the northern opening of the
Liberty Tubes at 8:30pm and roared above the Golden Triangle in a shower of
Police, military authorities and scientists were
unable to account for the strange phenomenon. Jets from the Greater Pittsburgh Airport
took off in pursuit minutes after the alarm was sounded, but the strange craft had
vanquished overhead leaving only the pale eerie light.
Residents of the suburbs called frantically in
to police headquarters, claiming to have spotted a flying saucer. Switchboards at the
Post-Gazette, police headquarters, the airport and the anti-aircraft command were
swamped with calls from panicky citizens.
No one could explain the presence of a vehicle
resembling a sports car that could leave the earth's atmosphere at an estimated 2,500
miles an hour.
The mystery, however, was explained by a ham
radio operator, who had accidentally left his tape recorder connected with his receiver.
He was U.H.F. Kilocyclos, or 2308 Longwave Drive, Transmitter Hill. His young son,
"Tweeter," had been playing with the receiver and tuned it in on an unused wave length
before going out into the back yard to play with his Kiddie Car.
If the tape had recorded an authentic conversation.
intelligence authorities were convinced that the conversation had occured between the
operator of the bogus sports car and his home base. Mr. Kilocyclos brought his tape to
the Post-Gazette, where a transcript was made before turning it over to the military
Following are excerpts from the
"Visi-Tor calling headquarters. Visi-Tor
"This is Saucer 9-QXA-12. Come in
"I am making a preliminary report on my
exporation of the Pittsburgh District. Time on the Intergalactic Calendar 3945 in the
year of the Asteroids 2,310,497, the 8000th day. Hours. Here they call it 5:30pm
September 1, 1957."
"Go ahead, Visi-Tor. What have you
"Everything has been normal during the past
few days, but today the Earthlings seem to have gone mad. They are killing each
other with automobiles. Hundreds have drowned themselves, eaten too much, fallen
off cliffs, crashed planes into the ground and gotten hideous
"All factories are closed. The only people
working are the elevator operators in hotels, newspaper reporters, policemen,
radio announcers and restaurant owners."
"The planet seems to have gone wild. It is
impossible for me to go anywhere on the ground and I do not dare fly. They say
the Nike missile is deadly and they say horrid things about something they call
a sabre jet. Am therefore stranded in a motionless line of auto traffic miles
"Now the line has started to move. I have
just been pushed forward three inches. This happens every six or seven
"I am now in a dark tunnel filled with
exhaust fumes. Request permission to return. Atomic disintegrator device could
bore through hill above tunnel."
"No," came the reply. "Remain in traffic.
It will bump you through tunnel. Just be patient."
"Fumes are getting worse. This is Visi-Tor
requesting permission to leave."
"No. Stay there. How long have you been in
"Three hours," was Visi-Tor's
"That is normal, Visi-Tor. Do not, repeat,
do not get panicky. You are all right. This is normal. Repeat. This is
Then the occupant repeated his plea several
times to be allowed to leave.
Finally he called again.
"End of tunnel in sight. Request permission
to return to home galaxy where I will be safe."
"No," came the reply. "Repeat. No.
"Cannot stand another day
"After tomorrow will be as usual. Urge you
to stick it out, Visi-Tor."
"Tomorrow is tomorrow. Today is today. Am
going to take off from tunnel mouth. Over and out."
There was a strange noise followed by a
"Do not be alarmed, Visi-Tor. Repeat. Don't
be alarmed. It is only Labor Day weekend."
To be fair to poor Visi-Tor, the Liberty
Tubes, which handled 60,000 vehicles a day on a normal day and possibly twice
that amount on a holiday, was one of the most uncomfortable place to be during
a long traffic jam. Congestion and poor traffic management at both ends of the
tunnel brought vehicular movement to a crawl.
In addition, the heat inside the
tunnels, combined with the overwhelming smell of stagnant exhaust emissions,
could drive anyone insane, or at least temporarily delirious.
Fifty-some years later, things can still
get a bit frustrating during rush hour. However, with the new south interchange
and other traffic improvements facilitating the movement of automobiles, along
with much stricter emissions standards, the drab interior of the Liberty Tubes
is not quite as foreboding an environment as it once was.
Wherever you are out there, Visi-Tor,
come back and give the 'Burgh another try.
Traffic Officer Pete Janus
Liberty Tubes Traffic Keeps
You're not the only one worried about your
morning cup of coffee.
At the south entrance to the Liberty Tubes,
traffic cop Pete Janus plays guardian angel for thousands of motorists every
"If I can get these people into work ten or
fifteen minutes early, they can get a cup of coffee before they start," Janus says.
"That's important to people."
A real sore spot has been where Route 51
North intersects with West Liberty Avenue and where some motorists using 51 then
turn into the tunnels. From 6:30am to 9:00am, the morning rush, the center-lane
traffic turns right into the tunnels.
Signals warn drivers fifty yards before the
intersection, but many either do not heed the warning or do not have time to cut
into the left lane.
So, they stall at the intersection's green
arrow pointing toward the tubes. Immobile irate motorists honk horns.
Like the banishing of Adam and Eve from the
Garden of Eden, Janus descends from his roadside booth and casts these traffic
"sinners" into the Liberty Tubes and into the hell of downtown
"Get in there!" Janus says, pointing a long
finger toward the dark tunnels, blowing his whistle and whipping out his ticketbook.
That's usually enough to compel these dejected "fallen ones" to turn right. If not,
a $25 traffic ticket is issued.
"Feel sorry for them? ... Nah ...," Janus
says. "I'm just doing my job."
The hard-lined cop, who hates traffic jams,
says he tries to be courteous and fair. But that's a two-way street, he says - if
they get out of line, he writes them up.
"We're here to help you by controlling traffic,"
says the 33-year veteran of the Pittsburgh Police Department. "People think
policemen throw their weight around. But that's not the case at all."
Sometimes the traffic guardian has mercy on
the erring. If an out-of-state motorist, unfamiliar with the area, is late for a
flight at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport, Janus signals him in the right
Trailers and rigs surpassing the tunnel's
capacity are not forced into the Liberty Tubes, either. In that case, Janus issues
a warning and records the license number.
The nimble Janus, wearing badge No. 83,
rarely sits in the intersection's mustard-colored booth. He controls the lights
from either inside or outside the booth and says he keeps traffic flowing smoothly
when standing in the midst of it. Constantly moving, gesturing and directing, Janus
manages to keep physically trim despite his 65 years.
"See this belly here? That's a beer belly,"
Janus says with a twinkle in his eye. "Root beer."
He will be retiring next month after seven
years manning the south end of the Liberty Tubes. Before that, he directed traffic
at Fifth and Wood and at Sixth and Liberty. Ironically, that's where limber-limbed
traffic cop Vic Cianca made his fame.
"Pete works hard and gets the traffic moving,"
Cianca says. "Every (traffic) policeman has his own style, but we all have the
"You can't stand in the middle of traffic
like a stiff robot with your arms raised at a 90-degree angle. It just doesn't
"We could always depend on Pete being at the
corner (Route 51 and West Liberty)," says fellow officer, Mike Griffin. "He works
the corner real well."
Janus, who lives in Beechview with his wife
Ethel, spent four years in the Ninth Division of the U.S. Infantry during World War
II. He joined the Pittsburgh Police on May 10, 1948.
He has not missed a day's work since
starting at the Liberty Tubes, with the exception of time he missed in January 1979
when he slipped on an ice patch and broke his leg on the job. Sometimes the pain
still bothers him, but he usually forgets it when supervising traffic
Day after day, Janus stands fearlessly in
the midst of rush hour traffic. He's never come close to being hit, he says, and
never worried about it. He has a guardian on his own protecting him.
"The Mighty Lord looks after me," says
Janus, a member of the Advent Episcopal Church in Brookline. "I have faith enough
in God to know he takes care of me."
* Article by Ann Carnahan copied from the Pittsburgh Press -
June 28, 1981 *
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
County Tunnel #1 - Neeld Tunnel - 1915
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
* Last modified: February 17, 2019 *
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.