Surprise, surprise! The inspection system failed before the Fern Hollow Bridge did



In January, the Fern Hollow Bridge on Forbes Avenue over a ravine in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park collapsed as a 21-ton articulated Port Authority Transit bus was crossing it. At least ten people were injured.[1] This is a major thoroughfare and therefore, one might assume, one that should not be neglected. Forbes Avenue remains closed between South Dallas Avenue and South Braddock Avenue; over $25 million in federal funding has been allocated for the bridge’s replacement.[2]

Despite ample evidence that the bridge’s steel structural support legs and cross-bracing were quickly deteriorating and failing, the inspectors kept intact the 26-ton weight limit that had been in place since 2014, writing: “Because the condition of the main load carrying members has not changed significantly, the 2014 Load Rating Analysis is still valid.”

Several engineering experts contacted by the Post-Gazette said they were troubled by the conclusions, saying the inspectors, their supervisors, the city and PennDOT should have taken into account the level of serious deterioration and re-examined the load rating.[3]

The bottom line here can’t be terribly surprising: The system of inspection by both the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the City of Pittsburgh failed before the bridge did[4] and this is the very same system that remains in use to ensure the safety of other bridges in Pittsburgh, and which I assume is similar to systems throughout Pennsylvania, where a great many other bridges, particularly in Allegheny County, are also rated in “poor” condition.[5]

Sam D. Hamill, “Fern Hollow Bridge was severely decaying before collapse, 2021 report indicates,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 19, 2022,


Lawrence Freedman, “When will Vladimir Putin realise it is time to cut his losses in Ukraine?” New Statesman, May 13, 2022,

Ross Douthat, “There Are Two Endgames in Ukraine. Both Carry Big Risks,” New York Times, May 14, 2022,

Natalia Drozdiak, “NATO Expansion Could Finally Shore Up Alliance’s Weakest Flank,” Bloomberg, May 14, 2022,

Liz Sly, “Russia is furious that Finland is joining NATO but can’t do much about it,” Washington Post, May 14, 2022,

Joe Barnes, “Sweden’s bid to join Nato ‘shows Vladimir Putin’s aggression doesn’t pay,’” Telegraph, May 15, 2022,

Bloomberg, “Ukraine Latest: NATO Embraces Sweden, Finland; US Aid Vote Nears,” May 15, 2022,

Deutschewelle, “Finland officially announces support for NATO membership,” May 15, 2022,

Deutschewelle, “NATO: Turkey outlines demands on Finland and Sweden membership,” May 15, 2022,

Kati Pohjanpalo and Niclas Rolander, “Finland, Sweden Set to Seek NATO Entry in Historic Shift,” Bloomberg, May 15, 2022,

Richard Spencer, “Third of Russian invaders destroyed,” Times, May 15, 2022,

Guardian, “Russians and Ukrainians battle around Izium as Sweden joins Finland in Nato bid,” May 16, 2022,

Jon Henley, “Turkey says it will not approve Sweden and Finland joining Nato,” Guardian, May 16, 2022,

Matthew Karnitschnig, “Europe’s leaders fall out of key on Ukraine,” Politico, May 16, 2022,

Jared Malsin, “Turkey Lays Out Demands as Finland, Sweden Plan NATO Entry,” Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2022,

John Revill, “Neutral Switzerland leans closer to NATO in response to Russia,” Reuters, May 16, 2022,

Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s Wood Chipper,” Puck News, May 17, 2022,

Rozina Sabur and Nataliya Vasilyeva, “Wounded Ukrainian defenders rescued from Mariupol steelworks to be exchanged for captive Russians,” Telegraph, May 17, 2022,

Emily Rauhala, “Finland and Sweden formally apply for NATO membership,” Washington Post, May 18, 2022,

Patrick Wintour, “Why has Erdoğan doubled down on threat to veto Nordic Nato bids?” Guardian, May 18, 2022,

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Ishaan Tharoor, “Turkey’s awkward role in the Russia-Ukraine war,” Washington Post, May 20, 2022,

  1. [1]Ed Blazina et al., “‘A boom, then a monster sound’: 10 hurt after bridge over Pittsburgh’s Frick Park collapses,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 28, 2022,; Ryan Deto, “Crane pulls Port Authority bus from Frick Park bridge wreckage,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 31, 2022,; Brian C. Rittmeyer, Megan Guza, and Jason Cato, “10 injured in bridge collapse in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 28, 2022,
  2. [2]Julia Felton, “$25.3M in federal funding set aside to replace Pittsburgh’s collapsed Fern Hollow Bridge,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 1, 2022,; KDKA-TV, “Pittsburgh Bridge Collapse: PennDOT To Invest $25.3M To Rebuild Fern Hollow Bridge,” January 31, 2022,
  3. [3]Sam D. Hamill, “Fern Hollow Bridge was severely decaying before collapse, 2021 report indicates,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 19, 2022,
  4. [4]Sam D. Hamill, “Fern Hollow Bridge was severely decaying before collapse, 2021 report indicates,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 19, 2022,
  5. [5]Ryan Deto, “12 infrastructure fails in the Pittsburgh region, including Fern Hollow Bridge,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 3, 2022,; Ryan Deto, “Allegheny County has plans to repair all of its poorly rated bridges,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 3, 2022,; Julia Felton, “‘It’s a resource problem’: 1 in 8 bridges in Pa. rated in ‘poor’ condition, records show,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 29, 2022,; Tony LaRussa, “Over 40 bridges in Alle-Kiski Valley are rated the same as span that collapsed in Pittsburgh,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 28, 2022,; Charlie Wolfson, “Collapsed Pittsburgh bridge and 175 others rated poor in county drive home need for investment,” Public Source, January 28, 2022,

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