On Saturday morning, the 31st Street Bridge was dedicated to the memory of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. William Raymond Prom, a Medal of Honor recipient whose bravery and marksmanship saved the lives of his comrades in Vietnam in 1969.
Prom, who died at age 20 in Operation Taylor Common, grew up in Reserve, where he dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player or police officer.
The ceremony marked the second time a bridge in Allegheny County has been named for a Vietnam veteran. In 2010, the northbound and southbound bridges on Route 28 in Etna and Sharpsburg were named for Michael J. Novosel, an Etna native who was a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Dedicating bridges to honor veterans calls for salutes and solemnity. But seemingly everyone was in a celebratory mood when the Thirty-First Street Bridge opened on Dec. 1, 1928. Twenty steamboats, belching smoke, paraded up the Allegheny River. Shortly after noon that day, federal, state, county and city dignitaries attending the dedication ceremony sailed from the Monongahela Wharf on the steamer William B. Rodgers and up the Allegheny River.
The 31st Street Bridge, now the William Raymond Prom Memorial Bridge, links the Strip District and Route 28 at Rialto Street in Troy Hill. It cost $1.65 million to build and replaced the 30th Street Bridge, which burned on July 8, 1921. The opening marked the culmination of a construction program begun in 1924. More than 5,000 spectators crowded on the speakers platform in the center of the bridge.
In an editorial, The Pittsburgh Press praised the late Capt. James Rees, founder of James Rees' Sons. In 1874, Rees wrote to the U.S. War Department, noting that the low level of Pittsburgh bridges was an obstacle to navigation and "a serious detriment to the commerce and industry of the community."
In his will, Rees left money to continue the fight to improve navigation on the Allegheny River. His son, Capt. Tom Rees, carried out his father's wishes. When the bridge opened, Tom Rees was 85.
The joy was short-lived. In 1932, inspectors found that the giant arch ribs supporting the main structure were hollow and did not meet specifications. The ribs had to be filled with concrete mixed with steel scraps.
In April 1983, a four-alarm fire at the Western Packing Co. warehouse on Herrs Island damaged the bridge's belly and structure. It closed for five months while two sections of it were rebuilt before it reopened in September of that year.
More than 20 years later, the bridge closed in 2006 for a $27 million makeover. The deck was replaced and widened from 28 to 34 feet. A pedestrian walkway on the downstream side was maintained and widened to 6 feet, 6 inches. A pedestrian walkway on the upstream side of the bridge was eliminated.
During that project, PennDOT left the bridge section nearest Route 28 untouched. Last August, a contractor used explosives to blow up that 195-foot stretch of rusty steel, which fell into the Allegheny River.
Now, PennDOT is reconfiguring the intersection to allow two lanes of motorists to pass through without traffic signals. The main line will pass under an intersection that will tie the bridge to on- and off-ramps and Rialto Street. The Route 28 end of the bridge is expected to open later this year.