The decaying Davis Avenue Bridge has been a nuisance to those living in its shadow since 2001, when the city abruptly closed it for safety reasons.
Since then, it has showered the small neighborhood below with storm water and occasional debris. Yesterday, it caused residents of four homes in the Woods Run section of Brighton Heights to flee for their safety.
"It's been a headache. I've been fighting over this bridge for years," said Leslie Borza, as she gathered belongings in her two-story frame house on Woods Run Avenue, some 70 feet below a rusting, faded blue span that city officials said could collapse at any moment.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl declared an emergency and the city urged occupants of the four homes to leave by noon yesterday.
"The bridge needs to come down, and needs to come down immediately," the mayor said.
Public Safety Director Michael Huss told the residents the bridge would be demolished and they could return within two weeks, but later yesterday said that was an optimistic forecast.
The city is in talks with Controlled Demolition Inc., the Maryland firm that imploded Three Rivers Stadium, to see if the span can be brought down quickly with explosives without damaging the homes.
If the bridge must be dismantled instead, "it really extends the time frame," Mr. Huss said.
The city's initial estimate of the demolition cost was $600,000. The mayor's declaration of an emergency allows the city to bypass the time-consuming competitive bidding process.
The 396-foot-long bridge was built in 1898 and 1899 under the auspices of the city of Allegheny, which later was annexed by Pittsburgh. The low bid for construction was just under $26,000.
The bridge connected the growing residential development of Brighton Heights with Riverview Park.
It was closed to vehicles in August 2001 because of deterioration. Since then, neither the funding nor the urgency has existed to repair it.
The city recently had the bridge inspected with an eye toward keeping it open for pedestrians, said Operations Director Art Victor.
Instead, the inspection revealed two "failed structural members" that raised the possibility of a collapse, said Chuck McClain, the city's project manager for bridges and structures.
"Anytime you have a failed member, you're concerned," he said.
The city received a letter from inspection consultant Michael Baker Corp. dated April 10 recommending that the bridge be demolished "as soon as possible."
Mr. Victor said the city analyzed a preliminary inspection report that arrived last week and decided the bridge needed to be demolished. "In the end, we decided to assume the worst in the interest of public safety," he said.
Ms. Borza, a teacher who has lived on Woods Run Avenue for 23 years, said that since the bridge closed, faulty drainage has caused rainwater to flood the neighborhood, debris has fallen and motorists using the detour speed dangerously down her street.
She put the house up for sale in September -- the sign was still up yesterday -- and bought other property outside the city, where she was headed yesterday with the help of city public works employees serving as a moving crew.
Ms. Borza said when she returned from work Tuesday, she found a letter from Mr. Huss, saying, "We strongly recommend that you vacate your house as soon as possible."
"You come home one day and they tell you you have 18 hours to leave your house. It's insane," she said.
Next door, Janice Tilley, a resident for nine years, said the bridge "has been problems from the very beginning."
"They've known this bridge is unsound since more than nine years ago. Now all of a sudden, it's an extreme danger," she said.
She said the American Red Cross was providing a hotel room for her until Monday.
After that, "we're just going to play it by ear and see what happens," said Ms. Tilley, a nurse who lives with her husband, Roger, a son, a dog and a cat.
Mr. Ravenstahl said the city "will take responsibility longer-term to house the residents that have been displaced" after Red Cross assistance ends.
Ms. Tilley was packing clothing and other essentials yesterday morning as crews buzzed about outside, rerouting electric service and moving concrete barriers into place to close the street beneath the bridge.
"I've never been through this before so I don't know what to expect," she said. "Hopefully, it will all work out OK."
Staff writer Rich Lord contributed. Jon Schmitz can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1868.