Bridge falls before Joe Biden visit
In the City of Bridges, it was not a standout. The bridge, four lanes of Forbes Avenue raised on a steel frame over a picturesque wooded ravine, carried traffic to and from the neighbourhoods on the city’s East End. It was around 50 years old and, according to inspectors, in poor condition, but even by these measures was not particularly exceptional in Pittsburgh.
Then on Friday morning, hours before President Biden was scheduled to visit the city to discuss the condition of the country’s infrastructure, the bridge collapsed into the snowy hollow below. At least 10 people were injured, four of them seriously enough to require hospital attention, according to a hospital spokeswoman. But no one was killed and officials said that none of the injuries were life-threatening.
For a bridge that is routinely crowded with traffic in morning and evening rush hours, this was fortunate. The timing of the collapse — around 6.45am (local time) — and the fact that city schools were opening two hours late because of snow were partially to thank for that.
When the bridge fell, said Darryl Jones, the Pittsburgh fire chief, only four cars and a bus — carrying a driver and two passengers — were on it. He described a challenging rescue operation, with emergency workers rappelling down into the snowy ravine and then setting up “a daisy chain with hands just grabbing people and pulling them up”.
The collapse ruptured a gas line that was quickly shut off, Chief Jones said, but it left a pungent odour lingering in the area throughout the morning.
Officials said the cause of the collapse was not yet known, though engineers and officials alike blamed the disaster on years of deferred maintenance. The National Transportation Safety Board announced it was sending a team of investigators.
That it fell on the day of Biden’s visit was an unhappy coincidence that one local official called “surreal.”
When the presidential motorcade arrived in the early afternoon, it made a stop at one end of the fallen bridge, where officials and rescue workers were gathered in the snow looking down at the wreckage.
In his remarks several hours later, Biden cited the bridge collapse as clear proof of why his administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan was urgently needed.
“There are another 3,300 bridges here in Pennsylvania, some of which are just as old and in just as decrepit condition as that bridge was,” he said, pledging that “we’re going to rebuild that bridge, along with thousands of other bridges in Pennsylvania and across the country.”
New York Times News Service