Share This Page

Deteriorating Rankin-Swissvale bridge draws ire of residents

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 12:21 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 bkerlik@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.