Leetsdale span could become 'bridge to nowhere'

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Leet Street Bridge in Leetsdale is closed, and by all indications, at least half of the bridge will be torn down in the spring at the earliest.

The state Public Utility Commission issued an emergency order to close the bridge after a safety bridge inspection last month and a field investigation and conference at the bridge with a commission engineer and officials from PennDOT, Norfolk Southern Railway Co. and Leetsdale Borough.

Norfolk Southern, which owns half of the bridge, agreed to tear down its half, which extends over railroad tracks, at a cost of $77,000. The other half — owned by the state — will remain, leaving a “bridge to nowhere,” council President Joe McGurk said.

PennDOT district bridge Engineer Louis Ruzzi said PennDOT's side of the bridge, which extends over Route 65, is in fairly good condition. It will not be torn down but will be blocked off.

The 105-foot bridge connects Washington Street to Beaver Street. Ruzzi said on an average, about 800 passed over the bridge each day.

The bridge is open to pedestrians. However, they must walk over it and not on the blocked-off sidewalk, which is in poor condition, McGurk said.

Several residents who spoke at a borough council meeting last week said they worry the missing bridge will leave only one way in and out for Washington Street residents to evacuate in emergencies and could force older and partially disabled residents to walk over the railroad tracks to catch a bus on Beaver Street.

McGurk said if there is a chemical leak at one of the companies in the nearby industrial park, residents would not be able to evacuate through the industrial park area to the “one-way out” — which is the Leetsdale overpass that crosses over Route 65 and railroad tracks.

A road along an area leading to an Ambridge overpass and a small bridge over Big Sewickley Creek both could be redeveloped, but that would take time and money, of which the borough has very little, McGurk said. The road no longer is used and the bridge is in disrepair, he said.

McGurk said Leetsdale officials were told if the Leet Street Bridge is not closed, the borough would not receive “a dime” of help for any borough project through any state or federal resources.

McGurk said Leetsdale is not permitted to put up locked gates at each end of the bridge, only to be opened in the event of an emergency.

Councilman Jeff Weatherby looked into another solution of “renting” a bridge that could be dropped in the same place as the missing bridge. But the cost for 32 months would be $600,000, or $475,000 to buy it, he said.

Borough officials said they offered to pay for a “critical” missing pin nut for the bridge, which would have cost between $2,000 to $4,000, to try to keep the bridge open a little longer. McGurk said PennDOT officials told him even with that part, they couldn't guarantee the bridge for even another day.

“We were told that if a car hit a railing on the bridge and the railing hit a part of the bridge, the bridge probably would collapse,” McGurk said.

Although the bridge was closed to truck traffic six months ago and only one lane for cars, McGurk said, several trucks have used it anyway, and police have issued tickets.

“We don't want to risk a truck crashing down onto the railroad tracks below,” he said.

McGurk said the bridge has been in disrepair for a long time. Several residents said they never have seen any maintenance done to the bridge.

Borough officials also were told that former council members signed an agreement in 1993 that the bridge would be torn down once the Leetsdale overpass was constructed. The overpass was completed in 2007.

The Norfolk portion is considered a “zero bridge,” which means it must be inspected every six months. But the condition is so poor, McGurk said, PennDOT officials said it must be inspected every three months.

Still, several residents said the bridge should not be torn down because of its historical significance.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406.

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