Hot metal span gets new life as link for trails

Bridge to be reused for bikes, walkers

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A seven-year paper trail is about to culminate in a key link for two pedestrian-bike trails in the city.

Bids are to be opened May 24 to convert the second of two historic Hot Metal bridges into a Monongahela River crossing that will link the South Side portion of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail to the Eliza Furnace Trail to Oakland and Downtown.

A parallel Hot Metal Bridge, renovated and opened for two lanes of traffic in 2000, for nearly a century carried trains shuttling between Jones & Laughlin steel mills on opposite sides of the river.

But the "bike bridge" is the true "hot metal" bridge inasmuch as it was used to transport molten iron from blast furnaces on the Hazelwood side to Bessemer converters and open-hearth furnaces on the South Side.

Prospective contractors attended a pre-bid conference last week at the John P. Robin Civic Building, where officials from the sponsoring Urban Redevelopment Authority and its engineering-construction consultants explained plans and procedures.

If the schedule goes as planned and bids fall within estimates between $6 million and $7 million, work is to start in mid-July. The contractor has 441 calendar days to finish (around Sept. 30, 2007).

Fittingly, a bicycle rider is overseeing the project -- Melissa Bilec, now senior project engineer. She has guided the project through the morass of plans and bureaucratic paperwork since she joined the URA in 1999.

"Yes, I would say it's been my baby," she said. "To be involved in this project is really important personally as a civil engineer, obviously as a trail user and from just the historical standpoint" of working on an industrial bridge dating to 1900.

The landmark structure, a steel-truss bridge, will remain intact, as has its twin. But at the north end, a matching truss will span Second Avenue and make a T connection with the Eliza Furnace Trail. At the other end, several long "switchback ramps" will take users to and from Hot Metal Street at the SouthSide Works.

The new steel as well as the existing steel will be painted black, although the low bidder will face environmental challenges cleaning old paint that contains lead, asbestos and other toxins.

The new bridge will have a 14-foot-wide deck to be shared by people on roller-blades, on bikes, runners and walkers. It will have two small platforms called belvederes for sightseers.

The contract is being entirely funded from federal sources, including transportation "enhancement" money traditionally spent on roads and bridges until the 1990s. The contract makes provisions for swings in energy prices, a major factor in soaring cost escalations affecting all building industries.

The renovated span will be a key link in the Great Allegheny Passage, a trail stretching from Point State Park to Washington, D.C.

Post-Gazette
Location of the Hot Metal Bridge
Click photo for larger image.

Joe Grata can be reached at jgrata@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1985.


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