A bridge collapsed early Friday in Pittsburgh, taking several drivers and their vehicles with it, just hours before President Joe Biden was set to deliver a speech nearby on the importance of strengthening the nation’s infrastructure.
No one was killed, authorities said, but several people were injured and three were transported to the hospital with injuries that didn’t appear life-threatening. The cause of the collapse was not immediately clear.
Biden was scheduled to speak at nearby Carnegie Mellon University at 2 p.m. Friday about strengthening the nation’s supply chains, revitalizing U.S. manufacturing and “building a better America,” according to the White House. He added a stop to the trip in order to see the bridge.
“What I didn’t realize, there are literally more bridges in Pittsburgh than any other city in the world,” Biden said, adding, “More than Venice.”
“We’re going to fix them all,” he said.
There are 43,000 bridges in poor condition nationwide, according to the White House. More than 3,300 of them are in Pennsylvania, Biden said.
The snow-covered Frick Park bridge collapsed around 6:30 a.m., crumbling to a creek bed and pedestrian path below. Images from the scene showed four to five passenger vehicles and a Pittsburgh Port Authority bus stuck atop the ruined structure, which had been a main artery to the Squirrel Hill neighborhood just outside the downtown area, an official said.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) expressed relief that schools in the area had been delayed due to a morning snow, saying the disaster could have been much worse.
Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones said crews worked to ensure no one was underneath the bridge after it collapsed. He estimated the bridge height at around 150 feet.
“They also did, like, a daisy chain with just hands, grabbing people and pulling them up,” Jones said of the first responders’ rescue operation.
A “massive gas leak” caused by the collapse also had been addressed, the fire chief said. He wouldn’t speculate whether the snowfall contributed to the collapse; it was also unclear whether the gas line may have contributed to it.
“We were fortunate,” Mayor Ed Gainey told reporters as snow continued to fall. Another city official said the White House had called about the collapse, ahead of the president’s visit.
Gainey emphasized the need to fund repair projects to roads and bridges, and hailed the bipartisan infrastructure package that Biden signed into law late last year.
“We need it. I’ve said it before. This bipartisan infrastructure law is critical,” Gainey said. “At the end of the day, this is critical that we get this funding.”
The mayor said he believed the Frick Park bridge was last inspected in September. State records show it was built in 1970 out of steel, with a rigid frame, and was rated in poor condition.
It’s one of more than 170 bridges in Allegheny County rated in poor condition; nearly 1,000 other bridges in the county are rated a step above that in fair condition.
Wendy Stroh, who lives near the bridge, told a Pittsburgh Tribune reporter she that heard what sounded like “a huge snow plow,” adding that “it wasn’t one noise, it was persistent.”
“Just the thought of the bridge collapsing is a very scary prospect,” Stroh said. “I cross that bridge all the time.”