Residents lament condition of Kenmawr Bridge

The Kenmawr Bridge could serve as a regional monument to neglect and inaction.

The decrepit 103-year-old span, which carries Braddock Avenue over Norfolk Southern Railways tracks in Swissvale and Rankin, is posted with a 6-ton weight limit, making it unsafe to any vehicle much heavier than a delivery van.

It is rated both structurally deficient and functionally obsolete, and on Pennsylvania's 100-point sufficiency scale, it grades at 3.5, one of the lowest scores in the state.

Kenmawr Bridge is unsafe for large vehicles

The Kenmawr Bridge could serve as a monument to neglect and inaction. The 103-year-old span, which carries Braddock Avenue over Norfolk Southern Railways tracks in Swissvale and Rankin, is unsafe for large vehicles. (Video by Jon Schmitz; 9/18/2013)

Although it sits on a major artery, Port Authority buses must avoid it, taking 15- to 20-minute detours. The sidewalks on both sides are closed and a narrow walkway straddles one of the travel lanes, separated from vehicles by a chain-link fence.

Janet Evans of Glen Hazel, who uses a motorized wheelchair and visits Swissvale frequently, demonstrated Tuesday that the walkway is too narrow and inaccessible for her to use.

"This is horrible," she said.

Janine Houser of Rankin said she is afraid to walk across it and takes one of the detoured buses to get around it. "It's time-consuming. I wait at the bus stop and I wait to be picked up to go all the way around just to get up here [to the Swissvale side] to catch the P1, just to go to Wilkinsburg or to Oakland and a doctor's appointment or to volunteer for a couple hours," she said. "It's just ridiculous. It needs to be fixed."

Despite its condition, there are no imminent plans to replace the bridge, because funding is not available.

"This bridge is a poster child for what is wrong with transportation funding in Pennsylvania right now," said Chris Sandvig, regional policy director for the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, at a gathering of citizens and community leaders on Tuesday.

PG graphic: Kenmawr Bridge location
(Click image for larger version)

Several speakers urged those in attendance to call legislators and Gov. Tom Corbett in support of Senate Bill 1, a $2.5 billion annual transportation funding measure that stalled in the House in June.

"If Governor Corbett had to have his grandchildren or his children walk this bridge, it would not be in the state of repair that it is," said the Rev. Richard Freeman, president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network and pastor of Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock.

The bridge is jointly owned by the two municipalities, Allegheny County and the railroad, but the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has agreed to oversee a replacement project. The only money allocated so far is a $461,000 federal earmark for preliminary design, said Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, assistant district executive for design.

The project will be complicated and costly because of the heavy traffic volume on Braddock Avenue and the need to raise the level of a new bridge enough to allow double-stack trains to pass beneath it, she said. Even under the most favorable circumstances, construction wouldn't begin for at least two years.

In the interim, the railroad is under a Public Utility Commission order to maintain the bridge adequately to support a 15-ton weight limit, which would be sufficient to restore Port Authority bus service to it, Ms. Moon-Sirianni said.

Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon said the company has entered a "preliminary engineering agreement" with Swissvale and Allegheny County but would not provide details. "I can tell you that NS is responsible for the superstructure and substructure of that bridge," he wrote in an email.

Transportation - neigh_east

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published September 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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