The Bridges of Pittsburgh: Roberto Clemente Bridge


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Luisa Walker wanted her youngest son to be an engineer who designed roads and bridges in his native Puerto Rico. Roberto Clemente became a baseball player instead, and today the bridge that carries Pirates fan to and from PNC Park bears his name.

Pittsburgh officials renamed the bridge, one of Three Sisters straddling the Allegheny River, for the late Pirates right fielder in August 1998. But the history of bridges at Sixth Street goes back much further, to 1819, when the street was known as St. Clair, the city on the north side was called Allegheny, and there was no such thing as baseball.

The St. Clair Street Bridge was a wooden toll bridge built by a contractor named Lothrop to profit from the wagons and walkers traveling between the two rival cities. It was torn down in the late 1850s to make way for a cable suspension bridge designed by the famous engineer John Augustus Roebling. A fire in 1881 destroyed some of its wooden floor supports, but the weight of electric streetcars was the real reason it was replaced in 1892.

PG Interactive: Pittsburgh's Bridges | Allegheny River

Click image above for an interactive tour of Pittsburgh's bridges across the Allegheny River, with histories and details about each.

The third Sixth Street Bridge, a through truss steel version designed by Theodore Cooper, turned out to be much more durable. Its deck was twice as wide as its predecessor, and it was ingeniously constructed beneath the deck of Roebling's bridge so traffic wouldn't be disrupted.

But what is most impressive was the way it was reused when the current bridge was built in 1927. Its two main spans were cut down and floated on barges down the Ohio River to connect Neville Island with Coraopolis. The bridge ably served for nearly 100 years until it was finally replaced in 1994 out of fear that its steel had become too brittle.

The fourth and current bridge, which opened Oct. 19, 1928, is nearly identical to its neighbors, the Andy Warhol (Seventh Street) and Rachel Carson (Ninth Street) bridges. They were the first self-anchored eye-bar suspension bridges in the United States. The Roberto Clemente Bridge is regularly closed to traffic during Pirates home games, and architectural lighting was added in 2002.

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