High bids jeopardize Hot Metal Bridge

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The linchpin in the city's efforts to connect two pedestrian/bike trails could be in jeopardy after bids came in well above the $6.5 million budgeted for the project.

Brayman Construction of Saxonburg submitted an apparent low bid of $9.2 million to convert the historic Hot Metal Bridge into a Monongahela River crossing for bikers, joggers, walkers, inline skaters and others.

The bridge, once used to transport molten iron between Jones & Laughlin steel mills in Hazelwood and the South Side, would link the South Side portion of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail to the Eliza Furnace Trail to Downtown and Oakland.

Joseph M. Popchak, assistant director of engineering for the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, which is handling the project, said officials would review the winning bid to make sure there are no obvious omissions or errors.

The URA had intended to fund the entire conversion through federal sources, including transportation "enhancement" money traditionally spent on roads and bridges until the 1990s.

Officials are now left scrambling to see if they can find additional money for the work. They expected the bids to fall within estimates of $6 million to $7 million. The five submitted ranged from $9.2 million to $11.9 million.

The URA also has the option of rebidding the project, but Mr. Popchak said he wants to review and analyze the bids before determining what the next step will be.

He said construction costs have been "going through the roof" the last six months to a year. That, he said, may have been a factor in how high the bids came in.

Officials had hoped to begin the work in mid-July. That schedule is now dependent on whether the URA can find additional money for the project.

The conversion would have added a 14-foot-wide deck to the steel-truss bridge and two small platforms called belvederes for sightseers.

On the north end of the bridge, another truss would span Second Avenue and connect to the Eliza Furnace Trail. On the other side, switchback ramps would link users with the South Side trail network and the SouthSide Works complex.

The renovated span also would serve as a key link in the Great Allegheny Passage, a trail stretching from Point State Park to Washington, D.C.

A parallel Hot Metal Bridge, previously used by trains serving the steel mills, was renovated and opened to two lanes of traffic in 2000. However, there is no pedestrian or bike access.

Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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