Bridge collapse in Pittsburgh sparks concern on Erie infrastructure

Nick Klein, Contributing writer

In the early morning hours of January 28, 2022, the Forbes Avenue Bridge collapsed. The timing was impeccable as the tragedy occurred just hours before President Biden arrived in Pittsburgh.

Biden’s visit was to promote support for his recently passed infrastructure law and to uplift his plummeting approval ratings. Biden’s mission in visiting Pittsburgh was to talk about infrastructure, and it is clear that Pittsburgh’s needs to be addressed.

The president was disgusted at what he saw when he came to the site.

Biden said, “The idea that we’ve been so far behind on infrastructure for so many years, it’s mind boggling,” and he pledged that “we’re going to fix them all.”

Fortunately, no one was killed, but ten people sustained minor injuries and several vehicles, including a bus, are now stuck on the snowy grounds of Frick Park.

Despite the warning from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that the bridge was in poor condition, city officials did not have much concern about it.

The collapse of Forbes Avenue Bridge alarms many people in Erie, especially those who are concerned about the state of Erie’s infrastructure.

YourErie reported that the total number of bridges in Erie County is 577, with 221 in good condition, 341 in fair condition and only 25 in poor condition. Just because only a small minority of the bridges are in poor condition does not mean that we should avoid trying to make sure our bridges are safe.

As Mark Bredl, Assistant District Bridge Engineer for PennDOT, said, “any part of the bridge that you can visually see and that you cannot see that’s underwater, we make absolutely sure that we inspect every element of that bridge.”

In general, bridges in good condition should be inspected at least once every two years, and for those in great condition it should be at least once every four years.

Not too far from Mercyhurst University is the Erie Zoo with a bridge over Mill Creek has been declared “needs repair or corrective action” by the National Bridge Inventory.

However, it is not just bridges in Erie that need to be rebuilt, but also other areas in infrastructure.

On July 1, 2020, a sewer collapsed on Fifth and Wallace Streets, creating a 30-foot sinkhole that swallowed a significant portion of the lumber yard of Frontier Lumber. One of the reasons why these incidents happen in Erie is that some of the sewage pipes date back to the 19th century.

Another incident was last September, when a damaged transformer below the corner at East 10th Street in Downtown Erie caused an electrical fire, forcing a half dozen buildings and 800 customers to lose power.

There is, however, hope for the future of infrastructure. Since the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last November, $1.2 trillion has been poured into physical infrastructure in the country for the next eight years. One of Erie’s main transportation hubs, Erie International Airport, will receive $1.4 million in improvements.

Executive Director, Derek Martin, plans to use the money to realign the taxiway, which will expand the distance between the runway and taxiway to reduce the chance of planes clipping one another. Meanwhile, the ErieWestern Pennsylvania Port Authority is planning to renovate Sassafras Street, which connects downtown to the bayfront.

It is considered one of the region’s most important community priorities in improvement for several years and it is scheduled to be completed this fall.

Infrastructure needs to be inspected more often and Erie’s precarious infrastructure is proof that Mercyhurst is not immune from its poor condition.

The country needs to encourage more education in engineering and more awareness surrounding local infrastructure. There can not be a repeat of the collapse of Forbes Avenue Bridge on one of the bridges here in Erie.