The Bridges of Pittsburgh: Veterans Memorial Bridge
July 21, 2013 4:00 AM
An aerial view of Veterans Memorial Bridge, the newest and widest span built over the Allegheny River.
By Marylynne Pitz Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Opened in 1988 with seven lanes, the Veterans Memorial Bridge is the newest and widest span built over the Allegheny River.
Building the bridge was the first step in a $400 million project by PennDOT that connected Downtown with the North Side. The bridge carries I-579 and links to Interstate 279 north, a 14-mile expressway that runs through the East Street Valley, Ross, Ohio Township and Franklin Park, finally linking to I-79.
"It was really the first piece of the whole North Shore Expressway, the East Street Valley Expressway now called I-279," said retired PennDOT district engineer Henry Nutbrown.
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 bridge cost nearly $16 million and was built by Cameron Construction Co. Called a beam bridge, its streamlined design made it less expensive to build than the two-deck Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt bridges.
As early as 1951, city officials were talking about a highway to the growing North Hills. But it wasn't until 1984 that construction began on the Veterans Bridge and its Uptown ramps.
During construction, the top story of a sprawling Strip District building had to be removed to make way for the bridge. The Buyer's Mart, at 207 12th St., is headquarters of the Buncher Co. Although Mr. Nutbrown wasn't in on the decision, he said the thinking was: "Why let land beneath a bridge go idle?"
"We need to have certain access underneath for inspection purposes. PennDOT inspectors have permission to walk on the roof of the building. It's concrete and fireproofed," Mr. Nutbrown added.
The project required a great deal of cooperation because at the same time, the Port Authority of Allegheny County was building a light rail tunnel for the subway through Downtown and also was constructing parts of the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway.
After more than three decades of planning, protests by three citizens groups and countless meetings, construction began in 1984. Rudolph Melani, a retired PennDOT engineer who lives in Cheswick, revised the highway design, reducing the cost from $700 million to $400 million.
When the Veterans Bridge opened, Mr. Nutbrown added, "We only went to Route 28 because 279 wasn't opened yet. We opened the North Shore Expressway in 1988 and the entire project was completed in the fall of 1989."
Joe DiFiore, a civil engineer who retired from PennDOT in 1991 and lives in Moon, recalled working on the bridge.
"Without that highway, I don't think you would have Cranberry today," he said.