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Bridge to be demolished

| Wednesday, June 20, 2001

There are no trolls lurking under the 100-year-old Norfolk Southern bridge on South Braddock Avenue in Swissvale. But there might as well be, according to borough officials.

'I've been here for 27 years and as long as I've been here, that bridge has been trouble,' said Swissvale police Chief Dom Nuzzo.

Swissvale fire Chief Ken Johnston estimates, and Nuzzo concurs, that as many as three trucks per week attempt to take South Braddock Avenue from the Rankin side of the bridge and slam into the bridge, snarling traffic.

With a clearance of 10 feet, 6 inches, the bridge, which officials think was built at the beginning of the 20th century, is nearly 4 feet lower than current state standards require.

The bridge underpass is also exceedingly narrow, and has no turning lane, so it's frequently a cause of bottlenecks for drivers trying to get to popular destinations such as Kennywood, or just trying to get home from work.

Help is on the way, but Swissvale officials will have to hold on a bit longer.

A project to heighten the railroad bridge and an adjacent span for Port Authority Transit's East Busway extension is half complete, as of last week.

The $4 million bridge restoration project is a key part of the Port Authority's $63 million extension of the East Busway from Wilkinsburg into the Swissvale-Rankin border. The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2002, according to Bob Grove, a spokesman for the authority.

Grove said 39 Port Authority bus lines currently use the East Busway and that number will rise significantly when the bridge work is completed.

On a recent call, Johnston muttered as he watched a tow truck and a group of borough employees attempt to extricate a crumpled produce truck from underneath the bridge.

The bridge's height is marked, repeatedly, in big white letters, but truck drivers consistently don't get the message.

'I guess they can't read,' Johnston said.

Nuzzo estimates that every time a truck runs into the bridge, the borough has to deploy as many as four policemen to handle the situation.

'We've got to reroute traffic, we've got to block traffic, we've got to get a tow truck out here,' he said.

Nuzzo said on average, it takes two hours to free a bridge-snagged truck and get traffic moving again.

Work to heighten the span for the railroad bridge to 14 &*#189; feet was completed last week, but the busway bridge where the railroad formerly ran will not be done until the end of next summer, according to Henry Nutbrown, the Port Authority's lead engineer.

The project, when complete, will also widen the passage underneath the bridge by adding a turning lane, according to Nuzzo.

Adding to the dilemma, Nuzzo said, is that South Braddock Avenue, which is under the borough's supervision, has a 5-ton weight limit and many of the trucks that run into the bridge exceed that weight.

District Justice Ross Cioppa of Rankin, who handles cases from Swissvale, said the fines for overweight trucks on South Braddock Avenue can run as high as $500. Cioppa said the amount of the fines varies depending on how overweight the truck was.

The bridge that currently causes so much trouble - the future busway bridge - is scheduled to be demolished this fall and rebuilt, so the low-hanging nightmare for Swissvale officials should be over by November.

'That's gonna remove an eyesore, that bridge has outlived its usefulness,' Nuzzo said.

Daniel Reynolds can be reached at dreynolds@tribweb.com or (412) 380-8533.

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