Fire closes Liberty Bridge indefinitely, creates ‘unbelievable’ traffic
Jack Wyke was caught up in traffic gridlock along the Parkway East as he headed to the Rivers Casino on Friday from his Wilkinsburg home.
“Unbelievable,” said Wyke, 64. “From the Squirrel Hill Tunnel all the way to town. Every way you tried to avoid it, there was traffic everywhere.”
A fire on the Liberty Bridge in the afternoon closed the span and the Liberty Tunnel to all traffic indefinitely and snarled traffic Downtown and along major arteries.
“We don’t know when it will reopen at this point,” said PennDOT’s regional spokesman Steve Cowan.
What normally would be a five-minute commute down Grant Street from the Greyhound bus station at the Grant Street Transportation Center to the Boulevard of the Allies turned into a 45 minute trip, said Don Monteleone, 65, of Penn Hills. Past the Boulevard of the Allies intersection, traffic was stopped.
“It was just terrible,” he said.
The bridge and tunnel closings are expected to add to the congestion expected with Saturday’s Pitt home opener in the afternoon, the Pirates game in the evening and the annual Kickoff and Rib Festival—all on the North Shore running from noon to midnight.
The blaze started just after 1 p.m. as construction crews working on a deck-replacement project cut steel with a blow torch, Cowan said. Sparks ignited tarps on a temporary deck installed beneath the bridge, which then set fire to plastic pipes connected to the bridge. Fire crews doused the flames through a hole in the top of bridge and had the fire under control about 1:30 p.m.
No injuries were reported.
“It appears everyone is all right,” Cowan said.
The bridge, which opened in 1928, is undergoing an $80 million rehabilitation project. The work started in April.
Crews are replacing the deck and revamping interchanges of the structurally deficient span. The project has required long-term closures of ramps to and from the Boulevard of the Allies and lane restrictions on the bridge.
Corrosion had been eating away at the 88-year-old steel above the river, and stringers that support the bridge deck are the original beams.
The bridge’s deteriorating condition triggered a weight restriction of 30 tons in 2013. That forced some heavy haulers and fire trucks to find alternate routes.
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7822 or [email protected] Staff writers Jason Cato and Aaron Aupperlee contributed.