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Pittsburgh Bridge Collapses Hours Before Biden Infrastructure Visit

PITTSBURGH — At least 10 people were injured after a bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh on Friday morning, hours before President Biden was scheduled to visit the city to discuss infrastructure.

It was not immediately clear what caused the collapse, which happened at around 6:45 a.m. Officials said that none of the injuries were life threatening.

The 52-year-old bridge, which crosses a deep wooded ravine in Frick Park on a steel frame, is routinely crowded at morning and evening rush hours with traffic heading to and from the city’s eastern neighborhoods and inner suburbs. But at the time of the collapse, said Darryl Jones, the Pittsburgh fire chief, only three or four cars and a bus were on the bridge.

Mr. Jones said the bridge collapse had also caused a “massive” gas leak that was shut off within half an hour, though it left a strong smell of natural gas lingering in the area. Some residents who lived nearby were temporarily evacuated.

With a light snow falling throughout the morning, Mr. Jones described a “physical rescue” operation to reach people in the wooded ravine below the bridge. He said that emergency responders rappelled down the collapse site and used a “daisy chain with hands just grabbing people and pulling them up.”

Adam Brandolph, a spokesman for the Port Authority of Pittsburgh, said in an email that the bus, heading east, had nearly traversed the entire bridge when the structure began to collapse. There were two passengers on board with the driver, he said, and no injuries were reported.

White House officials said in a statement that Mr. Biden had been told about the bridge collapse.

“The president is grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time,” the statement said, adding that Mr. Biden’s trip would go on as planned, and his administration would “stay in touch with officials on the ground about additional assistance we can provide.”

The president was scheduled to visit Pittsburgh, often called the City of Bridges, to talk about the importance of the infrastructure bill that passed last fall. Local officials, standing in a light snowfall in front of the downed bridge on Friday morning, drew the connection explicitly.

“At the end of the day, this is critical that we get this funding, and we are grateful to have the president coming today,” said Ed Gainey, who became the mayor of Pittsburgh earlier this month.

Rich Fitzgerald, the Allegheny County executive, echoing the urgent need for infrastructure funding, pointed out that just three years ago part of a major thoroughfare not far away had collapsed in a landslide.

The mayor said that the bridge was last inspected in September. Previous reports from 2011 through 2017 listed the bridge in “poor” condition, and in a structural appraisal, described the bridge as meeting “minimum tolerable limits to be left in place as is.”

According to the latest infrastructure report card prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers, 42 percent of the nation’s bridges are more than 50 years old, and 7.5 percent of the bridges — more than 45,000 — are “considered structurally deficient, meaning they are in ‘poor’ condition.”

In Allegheny County, which has the most bridges of any county in Pennsylvania, 176 of the 1,583 state and local bridges are in poor condition, according to the state Department of Transportation. Another 965 are listed as in “fair” condition.

The condition of the bridge through Frick Park was not lost on many of the Pittsburghers who regularly walk underneath its rusted span in the trails that wind along Fern Hollow Creek. Greg Kochanski, a software engineer, was walking his dog under the bridge four years ago when he noticed that one of the X beams that stabilize the bridge was so rusted that it had disconnected from the column to which it had been attached.

He reported this to the city in a tweet and, several weeks later, he said, noticed that the rusted beam had been removed.

“I wasn’t really expecting it to collapse,” said Mr. Kochanski said on Friday morning. “But no, it didn’t surprise me.”

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