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Preservationists fear demise of region's bridges

| Friday, July 10, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

The City of Bridges is drawing preservationists, engineers and historians who worry that many of the region's bridges are in danger of being lost forever.

Saving those endangered structures is the theme of the first Historic Bridges Conference this weekend in and around Pittsburgh.

Three days of self-guided tours from Allegheny County to West Virginia's nearby cities of Morgantown and Wheeling will end each day with dinners and lectures by experts in engineering and preservation, each hoping to highlight the plight of old concrete and metal bridges that are losing the battle against time, the elements and planners ready to replace them, said Todd Wilson, organizer of the conference.

When most people think of bridge preservation, they think of saving picturesque covered bridges, thanks to a push in the 1960s to designate the remaining ones as historic structures and ensure that they were harder to tear down and replace, Wilson said.

"When you're looking at metal or concrete bridges — and some are older than the remaining covered bridges — a lot of them are being replaced," he said. "If you do this trip again in a year, you won't see the same structures."

Among bridges the group plans to highlight are two owned by PennDOT that could be demolished by the end of the year: the Dorrington Road Bridge in Collier, a 124-year-old iron "pony truss" bridge; and the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge, a 1,800-foot-long, 102-year-old "thru truss" bridge over the Monongahela River.

The Historic Bridge Foundation, an Austin, Texas-based national preservation advocacy group, estimates up to 50 percent of the nation's historic metal truss bridges were lost during the past 25 years, said Executive Director Kitty Henderson.

"People need to realize that these bridges are just as much a part of who we are as a nation, as (is) a school or a church or any other building," she said.

Henderson was among people who met with PennDOT earlier this week to consider options for the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge. Those options include full restoration, partial restoration with weight limits, total demolition and replacement, or replacement with a "replica" bridge duplicating the design that made the bridge a federally designated historic structure.

Starting at 4:30 p.m. today, a guided walking tour around Downtown will highlight some of the city's bridges, including the historic Smithfield Street Bridge, the "Three Sisters" bridges crossing the Allegheny River to the North Shore, and the 10th Street Bridge, Wilson said.

Speakers tonight will include Eric DeLony, former head of the Historical American Engineering Record; Stan Nalitz, technical director of Los Angeles-based AECOM Transportation and project manager for several Pittsburgh-area bridge restorations; and Louise Sturgess, executive director of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, which supported restoration and decorative lighting projects on several city bridges.

"In small ways, we've been part of the historical bridge promotion effort," Sturgess said. "That's why we're particularly pleased to have experts from around the country come to Pittsburgh to tackle the problem."

For information on the conference and to download directions for the self-guided tours, go to www.bridgemapper.com/events.html .

Additional Information:

Bridges of Pittsburgh

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