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Bridge conference is coming back to Pittsburgh

| Sunday, June 10, 2012, 11:23 p.m.
Tribune-Review
The I-76 Allegheny River Bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Harmarville. Construction of the twin 2,350-foot structures began in May 2007 and the 532 foot main span will be Pennsylvania's longest concrete segmental span. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The I-76 Allegheny River Bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Harmarville. Construction of the twin 2,350-foot structures began in May 2007 and the 532 foot main span will be Pennsylvania's longest concrete segmental span. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The sun rises over the Fort Pitt Bridge, Thursday, june 7, 2012. Pittsburgh will be hosting the 29th annual International Bridge Festival, June 10-13. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The I-76 Allegheny River Bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Harmarville. Construction of the twin 2,350-foot structures began in May 2007 and the 532 foot main span will be Pennsylvania's longest concrete segmental span. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The sun sets over the Fort Duquesne Bridge, Thursday, June 7, 2012. Pittsburgh will be hosting the 29th annual International Bridge Festival, June 10-13. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

A place known for its bridges makes an ideal host for a conference devoted to such structures.

The "City of Bridges" today welcomes the 2012 International Bridge Conference, which is expected to attract about 1,600 people from around the country and world to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, during the next four days.

This is the 29th consecutive year the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania has held the conference in Pittsburgh.

"I don't think we've come close to wearing out our welcome yet," said David Teorsky, general manager of the Downtown-based society. "I think Pittsburgh has a worldwide reputation, like other cities with landmark structures, such as San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge or New York City and the Brooklyn Bridge, especially with people in the bridge industry."

Among those that stand out to Myint Lwin, director of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Bridge Technology, are the Three Sisters that allow Sixth, Seventh and Ninth streets to cross the Allegheny River from Downtown to the North Shore. Allegheny County built the nearly identical bridges -- today named for Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson -- between 1924 and 1928.

"They are very unique and well-kept," said Lwin, a conference committee member.

Lwin notes that Pittsburgh's diversity of railroad, pedestrian and highway bridges span more than the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. "I think they stretch over the whole century. (The city) is one of a kind, as far as bridge design goes."

The society considered holding the conference elsewhere but no suggestion materialized, Teorsky said. Attendance increased dramatically since it moved the event to the convention center from the former Hilton Pittsburgh, now the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh.

More public attention has been focused on bridge safety since a Minneapolis bridge collapse in 2007, Lwin said.

A report released last year ranked Pennsylvania first among states with structurally deficient bridges -- with 5,906 such structures, or 26.5 percent of all of the state's bridges.

"It's one of those things we almost take for granted," Teorsky said. "We drive across them every day. And as long as it functions the way it should, you don't think about it. But it's certainly an important subject."

The convention, the world's largest devoted to bridges, offers more vendors and sessions than ever, Teorsky said. Attendees discuss design, rehabilitation and inspection issues, as well as information on purging graffiti and design changes for floods and earthquakes, among other topics.

The Interstate 76 bridge over the Allegheny, which the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission built and opened more than a year ago, will be noted for its aesthetically and environmentally pleasing design.

Construction started in 2007 on the twin 2,350-foot structures that became the state's first cast-in-place segmental bridge, said Matt McTish, general chairman of the conference and principal of McTish, Kunkel & Associates, the firm that headed the project's construction management and inspection.

"There's not too many built throughout the country," McTish said. "But this is the type of modern bridge that can compete with structural steel."

Other projects to receive awards for engineering achievements include the Nanjing Dashengguan Yangtze River Bridge in China, the Triplet Bridges in La Paz, Bolivia, and the Peace Bridge in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The society also will recognize the rehabilitation of the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine, Fla.

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