Pennsylvania Fern Hollow Bridge Repair Project

This grant provided the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation with the necessary funds to repair the Fern Hollow Bridge after its unexpected collapse.

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Photo shows Joe Biden and Ed Gainey facing the snowy construction site of the Fern Hollow Bridge.
President Joe Biden and the Mayor of Pittsburgh Ed Gainey watch as construction crews begin to tend to the Fern Hollow Bridge shortly after its collapse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on January 28, 2022. (Getty/Saul Loeb)
  • Project Name: Fern Hollow Bridge Project

  • Program: National Highway Performance Program

  • Law: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

  • Recipient: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

  • Investment amount: $25,300,000

  • City: Pittsburgh

  • State: Pennsylvania

  • Congressional district: 12

  • Construction start date: 2022

  • Jobs created: 100

This profile is part of a project that finds and tracks the public and private sector investments generated or supported by three of the Biden administration’s economic laws. These laws make investments in the American people, helping to grow the middle class, lowering the cost of living, and setting up America to better compete and cooperate in the world. Pulling directly from several sources, this catalog provides users with publicly available information such as the number of jobs created, workforce training partnerships, and storytellers benefiting from particular projects, among other detailed information. The profile below expands on the economic, practical, and climate impacts of just one of the 35,000 investments that can be found in the Biden Administration Investment Tracker. It may be updated to account for future project developments.

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After the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed right before rush hour on January 28, 2022, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act awarded the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) $25,300,000 to facilitate a quick repair of the bridge. With these funds, PennDOT was able to quickly to repair the bridge and return the stretch of road to business as usual within 11 months.

Historical context

In January of last year, the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed and fell 100 feet while there were vehicles on it, just hours before President Joe Biden was set to visit the area:

  • “It was just before 7 a.m. when Pittsburgh Public Safety officials quickly confirmed to the KDKA-TV news team that the bridge had collapsed, urging the public to avoid the area.” – CBS News, January 28, 2023
  • “The bridge, which has since been rebuilt and has reopened, gave way and fell over 100 feet below, sending several vehicles and a Port Authority bus into the park below.” – CBS News, January 28, 2023

The bridge collapse prevented many from traveling on their normal route for 11 months and was an immediate impediment to everyday life for residents in surrounding neighborhoods:

  • “Before its collapse, the 49-year-old bridge served as an important link for neighborhood residents, providing the only way to avoid having to circumnavigate the 644-acre Frick Park. It also carried emergency vehicles that would otherwise have had to drive an additional 20 minutes or more.” – American Society of Civil Engineers, April 19, 2023
  • “Just 11 months have passed since the span, which connects Squirrel Hill and Regent Square, collapsed on Jan. 28, severing a critical travel route for some 21,000 motorists as well as cyclists, pedestrians, and park users.” – Pittsburgh Public Radio, December 16, 2022

Project summary

Federal and state governments reacted swiftly to react to the collapse, beginning the repair process as quickly as possible:

  • “Understanding the need for swift action, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey issued emergency declarations. As a result, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the city of Pittsburgh were able to utilize all available powers, resources, and personnel deemed necessary to cope with the magnitude and severity of the bridge collapse. Coincidentally, President Joe Biden was in Pittsburgh the day of the collapse to announce new infrastructure funding. He visited the site of the collapse, bringing even more attention to the already-high-profile event.” – American Society of Civil Engineers, April 19, 2023
  • “The City of Pittsburgh and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have finalized a Reimbursement Grant Agreement which will allow the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to design and construct a new structure at the site of the Fern Hollow Bridge. PennDOT will be responsible for contract development, letting and award, design development activities, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, and other items related to the design and construction of the new bridge. … This agreement allows the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to execute an emergency contract with Swank Construction Company/HDR Inc. to immediately begin design efforts and mobilize to remove the existing bridge.” – Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, last accessed June 9, 2023

The bridge would normally have taken two years to build, but the construction was completed faster thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act putting funding in the pipeline:

  • “Money for the bridge repair did not come from the law itself, Biden said, but with that funding in the pipeline, state officials had an easier time shunting already-allocated dollars to expedite repairs.” – WESA, October 20, 2022
  • “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — which had passed just two months earlier, in November 2021 — helped provide flexibility for the project’s $25.3 million budget. In part because of the promise of new federal funding, PennDOT could quickly transfer funds that had been planned for other projects to the emergency rebuild.” – American Society of Civil Engineers, April 19, 2023

Outcomes, improvements, and practical impact

  • The bridge reopened 327 days after it collapsed: “On Dec. 21, [2022,] the project team, along with local and state officials, cut the ribbon on the new bridge, just 327 days after the former bridge collapsed. The day after the ribbon-cutting, the bridge opened to traffic. Work continues on some components, including a bridge deck overlay and lighting installation.” – American Society of Civil Engineers, April 19, 2023
  • After a brief closure in July 2023, the bridge was fully back in service: “On Friday, the city announced the good news that the Fern Hollow Bridge was officially reopened after its closure last month for some finishing touches. After a whirlwind year and a half, the Fern Hollow Bridge is back in service and reopened to the public. … Of course, the bridge collapsed in January 2022 due to issues stemming from water drainage and metal deterioration. But, with a Herculean construction effort, the bridge was rebuilt and partially reopened to traffic just before Christmas last year. After its latest closure with all major work completed, the bridge and the park pathway below are now open.” – CBS News, July 8, 2023
  • Nine local workers were honored for the bridge’s quick rebuilding: “Governor Josh Shapiro will present a group of employees from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) with Governor’s Awards for Excellence in recognition of their efforts to replace the Fern Hollow Bridge in less than a year after its collapse, restoring a critical connection between communities in the City of Pittsburgh.” – Beaver County Radio, October 26, 2023
  • Local residents appreciated the work being done in a short time frame: “Bill James and his wife Elizabeth, along with their four-month-old, Tommy, were out for their inaugural walk as a family Saturday morning across the Fern Hollow Bridge. Bill says, as a frequent user of the bridge, he is grateful. ‘I am just appreciative of all the people who put the hard effort into designing the bridge and also building it under such a short time frame. I think it is a great testament to those both in the design and laboring community as well as those in politics as well. They were able to pull together and make a great impact for our community,’ James added.” – CBS News, July 8, 2023
    • “‘It’s the best. I mean, we had a tease for the last couple of months where we just had the one lane, and it was just great to get back and forth into Frick Park. Now that everything is open, we have the artwork here, and it’s just great to have it back,’ said Regent Square’s Josh Steiner.” – CBS News, July 8, 2023

Climate impact

  • The bridge repair improved pedestrian and bicycle access and access to the trail below the bridge: “The original bridge had 5 ft, 5 in. wide raised sidewalks on both sides. The community asked for improved bicycle and pedestrian amenities, and the design incorporated those wishes while retaining the same overall width and number of required traffic lanes of the collapsed bridge. To do so, the new design narrowed the four traffic lanes from 11 ft to 10 ft and the shoulders from 3 ft to 2 ft to make way for a 10 ft., 5 in. wide shared-use path and a 5 ft wide raised sidewalk on the opposite side of the bridge. Combined, these changes increased the pedestrian and bike access across the bridge by 50%. A new pedestrian crosswalk extends perpendicular to the bridge at its west approach to enable pedestrians and bicyclists to safely cross the busy roadway when using the park’s trails and the roadway’s sidewalks and cycle tracks.” – American Society of Civil Engineers, April 19, 2023

Economic impacts

  • The reconstruction of the bridge created more than 100 jobs: “‘By Christmas, God willing, I’m coming back to walk over this sucker,’ Biden said. ‘This really matters. Folks in this neighborhood rely on this bridge,’ he continued, noting that the project led to the creation of 100 jobs. ‘This law is about more than rebuilding our infrastructure. It’s about rebuilding the middle class.’” – Yahoo, October 20, 2022
  • The union contractor that delivered the project has been in the same family for four generations: “This project — this project has supported over a hundred jobs — good-paying construction, union jobs. (Applause.) Laborers, carpenters, cement mason. So many more. The contractor delivering this project, by the way, has been a company that’s been owned by the same family for four generations — a union company since 1930s that built our roads and our bridges, building during the New Deal, during Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, and now the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.” – The White House, October 20, 2022

Official supporting statements

  • President Joe Biden: “When I was here in January, I told the governor that we’d help and we’d be — help rebuild this bridge behind us as fast as we possibly could. That day, the governor moved and signed an emergency order that let us move separate federal funding as quickly as possible to the project. The reason we could do that is because I had just signed the Infrastructure Law a few months earlier. But had we waited for that money, it would have taken longer. The governor knew he could count on the new law to fund other projects to ensure the projects he already had started for infrastructure in the state would not be slowed down in the process. The result: Pennsylvania has been able to repair Fern Hollow Bridge in less than a year.” – The White House, October 20, 2022
  • PennDOT Press Secretary Alexis Campbell: “Thanks to new funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, $25.3 million in federal funds were made available for the project and the project was able to proceed quickly without affecting funding for other critical projects in the region.” – CNN, December 17, 2022
  • U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA): “Now more than ever, we need to get to work. We need to make use of the legislation President @JoeBiden ushered in, rebuild our roads + bridges, and fix our faulty infrastructure.” – X, @JohnFetterman, January 28, 2022
  • U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA): “I applaud the City of Pittsburgh, PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration’s swift response to the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse. … The incident underscored the need for the massive investments we are making in bridge repairs and replacements through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Thanks to President Biden’s law, we have the resources to begin the replacement of this essential artery as expediently as possible. – Office of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, February 4, 2022

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