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New 16th Street Bridge name panned as risk to public safety

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
The David McCullough Bridge extends 16th Street across the Allegheny River. Saturday, March 21, 2015.

Allegheny County risks public safety by renaming the 16th Street Bridge after a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, a Pittsburgh emergency official warned leaders this week.

Legislation signed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Wednesday renames the bridge for Point Breeze native David McCullough. There is a McCullough Street, two blocks long, in California-Kirkbride in the North Side several minutes from the bridge.

That redundancy could lead 911 dispatchers to misdirect police, firefighters and medics, Ray DeMichiei, deputy director of city Emergency Management, wrote in an email on Wednesday to more than a dozen city and county officials. The duplication also violates national safety standards the city adopted to help avoid such situations, he added in the email.

“It doesn't make any sense,” said City Council President Darlene Harris, whose district includes half the bridge. “If I would have known, I would have had a discussion with the county executive.”

County dispatchers have directed emergency responders to the wrong place several times because of duplicate names. There are duplications across the county, but call takers are trained to ask questions to avoid problems, Fitzgerald's spokeswoman Amie Downs said.

County officials consulted Emergency Services officials who run the 911 center, and they had no concerns, she added.

“Ultimately it comes down to the call taker, and we think they are very well-trained,” Downs said. “And while obviously there are always errors and accidents that occur, we take every precaution.”

The city passed legislation in 2008 to create an address committee to ensure names of honorary streets don't conflict with existing ones. The committee, which DeMichiei led, began reviewing all city street names in 2010 after an incident in which dispatchers sent paramedics to Overlook Drive in Schenley Park instead of Overlook Street in the North Side.

The woman in that case survived, but 911 operators made a similar mistake less than a month later, sending responders to Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland instead of Bigelow Square, Downtown, where a man collapsed and later died.

Emergency workers made the same mistake “on other occasions” that did not make news reports, DeMichiei wrote.

The address committee will study the 16th Street Bridge name change, said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. She declined to comment further.

The bridge is county property, and it's up to county officials to name it, county officials said. Many noted that other honorary bridge names — Clemente, Carson and Murray — share names with city streets.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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