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Deteriorating Rankin-Swissvale bridge draws ire of residents

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By Bobby Kerlik
Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Janine Houser is afraid to walk across the rusting Kenmawr Bridge from Rankin to Swissvale, because its sidewalks are closed and a makeshift barrier that allows pedestrians to cross doesn't offer much protection from heavy traffic.

“I can't cross this bridge. I wait to catch the (bus) to go to Wilkinsburg or Oakland,” said Houser, 44, of Rankin.

More than a dozen community members rallied on Tuesday at the bridge to ask government leaders to fix or replace the crumbling structure that spans railroad tracks and carries traffic from Braddock Avenue to near the Rankin Bridge.

The sidewalks are closed, and a fence erected on one side of the bridge gives pedestrians a narrow barrier from passing cars. Rusting rebar juts from the underbelly of the bridge.

PennDOT lowered the weight limit on the bridge for most vehicles to six tons from 12 in January, forcing Port Authority to redirect four bus routes beginning in February, two of which travel the nearby East Busway.

“This bridge is a poster child for what's wrong with transportation funding in Pennsylvania,” said Chris Sandvig, regional policy director for the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, which sponsored the rally. “A bus has to drive 15 to 20 minutes out of its way just to (detour around) this bridge.”

Port Authority spokeswoman Heather Pharo said detours started seven months ago because of the condition of the Kenmawr Bridge have become permanent.

“During the initial detour phase, before the detours essentially became indefinite routing changes, the affected bus routes were delayed an average 10 to 15 minutes each trip,” Pharo said. “It's a difficult area to detour through.”

Since then, times have been trimmed, she said.

Swissvale borough engineer Robert Zischkau said rehabilitation and replacement plans have been in the works since 1992, but a lack of cooperation among governments and funding problems put the project on hold until PennDOT agreed to take over management within the past few months. He said the bridge must be replaced at a cost of $3 million to $7 million.

“It's just been delay after delay,” Zischkau said. “But I do think with PennDOT, it will make things go a lot faster.”

Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, assistant district executive for PennDOT, said the agency is considering replacement options, but there is no timetable. She said about $460,000 of federal money is available for the project. Allegheny County, Swissvale, Rankin and Norfolk Southern Railroad are involved in discussions, she said.

“Right now, there's no additional funds,” Moon-Sirianni said.

In the interim, Norfolk Southern has responsibility to rehab the bridge to allow it to sustain a 12-ton weight limit, Moon-Sirianni said.

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, confirmed the railroad is responsible for the superstructure and substructure but wouldn't comment further.

“Anything related to the future of the bridge speaks to the preliminary engineering agreement we have with the county and (Swissvale), and there's nothing for (Norfolk Southern) to announce right now,” Pidgeon said.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or

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