Fern Hollow Bridge
The first beam of the Fern Hollow Bridge replacement moves into place. Photo by Ann Belser.

Workers were attaching straps to the first beam of the Fern Hollow Bridge replacement when Cheryl Moon-Sirianni of PennDOT announced that the state expects to have the bridge open by the first of the year.

The construction of the bridge, which is also expected to come in under the $25.3 million provided for the structure by the federal government, has gone more swiftly than expected, she said.

Moon-Sirianni, the district executive for PennDOT’s Pittsburgh region, said the emergency nature of replacing the bridge meant that the permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for building over a stream and the right of ways for the park were given quickly. 

The Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed on Jan. 28.

The design of the bridge has not been completed even as construction has started.

Aspects of the deck, such as the final configuration of the travel lanes, are still being worked out, Moon-Sirianni said, as the beams to support the deck were delivered behind her during a press conference on Monday, July 25. 

International design firm HDR and contractor Swank Construction Co. of New Kensington are working on the bridge.

Construction crews bring in new materials for bridge repair at Fern Hollow Bridge.
Swank Construction Co. is working on the Fern Hollow Bridge. Photo by Ann Belser.

One item that might hold up the opening of the bridge will be obtaining the barriers for the sides of the bridge. Moon-Sirianni said the railings and the bridge lighting are among the items hit by pandemic shortages.

“If you think baby formula is hard to get, try to get a steel barrier,” she said.

While the bridge can open with temporary lighting, it cannot open without the barriers along the sides.

Meanwhile, two 150-foot beams, each 8 feet high and 36 inches wide, weighing 108 tons, or 216,000 pounds, will be trucked up Forbes Avenue each workday until the first 14 are delivered. The last seven will come from the Parkway East with trucks literally backing up through Regent Square (with a driver steering from the rear) to the bridge.

Remarking on the swift nature of the Fern Hollow Bridge project, Moon-Sirianni said normally it would take years to design and to obtain the permits for a new bridge and then another two years to demolish the existing bridge and build a new one.

Two Pittsburgh artists — John Peña and Carin Mincemoyer — have been selected by the city to create projects for the bridge.

Ann Belser

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.