All Pittsburgh bridges reopen after 12 barges break loose on Mon River
Dan barge video
Bridges carrying traffic across the Monongahela River were closed Monday morning after 12 barges hauling coal broke loose from a tow boat and floated away.
The bridges reopened by mid-morning but not before the morning commute ground to a halt in some places and Port Authority of Allegheny County riders faced serious delays.
Strong river currents caused the loaded barges to break free from the Murray American Transportation Inc.-operated tow boat, the M/V Brenda L. Murray II, according to a statement from the Monessen-based company.
All of the barges have been secured, the company said in the statement.
“We are working with the United States Coast Guard and other state and federal regulatory agencies to investigate this matter, and to determine the cause of the barge breakaway,” the statement said.
The incident was reported just before 5 a.m., when some of the barges being pushed by the tow boat came loose around the area of the Liberty Bridge, said Lt. Shawn Simeral of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Pittsburgh.
Of the 12 barges that broke free, 10 were secured to moorings, while the other two were secured at the Smithfield Street pier, Simeral said. One was partially submerged.
The barges will be cleared as soon as river conditions allow and the necessary equipment is able to be dispatched, according to a statement from Murray American Transportation.
There are no restrictions on area waterways and the Coast Guard has not been alerted to any harmful materials in the water, Simeral said.
Officials closed the McKees Rocks, West End, Fort Pitt, Liberty, Smithfield and Panhandle bridges as crews inspected them for damage.
Simeral said officials received reports that the Liberty Bridge was struck by at least one barge and the Smithfield and Fort Pitt bridges possibly were struck.
PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said bridge inspection crews would determine whether the bridges PennDOT is responsible for were damaged.
Pittsburgh River Rescue boats scrambled to get inspectors to the bridges to assess any damage that might have occurred. Pittsburgh police officers went to congested areas to direct traffic.
The West End and McKees Rocks bridges were among the first to reopen.
Around 8 a.m., tow boat crews secured a barge that was stuck against the Fort Pitt Bridge, according to a tweet from the city public safety department. Traffic started flowing across the bridge in both directions about 30 minutes later.
All bridges across the Mon were open to traffic by 9:30 a.m.
A barge hit the Panhandle Bridge used by light-rail cars, but the Port Authority determined it was safe to use.
“Our engineers have determined that the Panhandle Bridge did, indeed, take a direct hit from a loose barge,” the authority tweeted. “We’re having a contractor come out now to tell us if it’s safe to use for the rail system. Again, safety is our #1 concern.”
The Port Authority temporarily suspended all light-rail service. The authority said commuters should expect major delays on all services — bus and rail — coming from the south. All rail lines were expected to be operating on regular schedules by the evening rush hour, according to the authority. Shuttle buses remained for the Mon Incline.
Some bus routes, particularly Routes 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, Y45, Y46, Y1, Y47, 48, Y49, 51 and 51L, were delayed through late morning.
Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, said on Facebook that they were aware of the situation, but none of the barges had impacted the Emsworth Locks and Dams on the Ohio River.
Madasyn Czebiniak and Jamie Martines are Tribune-Review staff writers.
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, email@example.com or via Twitter .