East Brady Bridge is blown to pieces

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The East Brady Bridge was razed shortly after 10 a.m. yesterday as hundreds watched with mixed emotions from an overlooking bluff.

Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette photos
A series of explosions brings down the old East Brady Bridge across the Allegheny River yesterday, witnessed by a crowd of hundreds who gathered to watch the proceedings. The demolition company used 66 pounds of explosives to knock the 771-foot-long span into 27 segments and into the river in just a second. A new bridge, the Sgt. Carl F. Curran II Bridge, bottom photo, is 300 feet downstream.
Click photos for larger images.

The Pratt through-truss bridge, which carried state Route 68 across the Allegheny River between Bradys Bend, Armstrong County, and East Brady, Clarion County, was first built in 1885 and twice refurbished, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Blasters from Demtech, a Dubois, Wyo.-based demolition company, used just under 66 pounds of an explosive known as RDX, a C-4 derivative, to burn through steel at key joints. In a bright flash, the 771-foot-long bridge was broken into 27 independent segments, which plunged into the Allegheny below. A forceful concussion rattled windows in the small town of East Brady as a massive plume of smoke rose into the sky.

After more than a century of spanning the Allegheny, the bridge was brought down in less than a second.

High above the site, where St. Eusebius Church is perched on a riverside bluff, scores of East Bradyites gathered on the lawn with cameras, picnic blankets and lawn chairs to watch the demise of the locally famous structure.

The blast elicited squeals from small children, delighted to see something of that size "go kaboom," as one put it. But some older residents of the town, having formed sentimental attachment to "the old girl," were sorry to see it go.

"First the [East Brady] high school [which was demolished and merged with Karns City High School], now the bridge. What's next? The river?" joked Vic DeBacco, 77, who was raised in Bradys Bend but now lives just over the river in East Brady.

"It sure is going to be strange without it," said Jackie Hepler, who has lived in East Brady all of her 60 years. She said she wished the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation would have left the bridge standing, if only for pedestrian traffic.

The idea of converting it to a footbridge was considered but rejected because of liability concerns and maintenance costs, said PennDOT District 10 community relations coordinator Mark Hillwig.

The bridge could have been a spot for fishing, said Marty Sasse, 74, a former East Bradyite who now lives in Clarion.

While he lamented its downfall, his wife, Donna, was not at all upset. "Should have gone a long time ago," she said.

Eighty-six-year-old Lucy Elizabeth King Gallagher recalled driving across the bridge in her father's Model A Ford, but said she never became attached and bade it good riddance.

Brayman Construction Corp., PennDOT's primary contractor for the $15.8 million East Brady Bridge Replacement Project, will have 72 hours to clear an 80-foot-wide navigable channel so river traffic can resume. Clearing all of the former bridge from the river likely will take weeks, said Mr. Hillwig.

The demolition was the last major phase of the bridge replacement project. Mr. Hillwig said all that remains to be done after the debris is removed is to widen a section of state Route 68 and adjustments to Seybertown Road, both on the Armstrong County side of the river.

The replacement span, 300 feet downstream, Sgt. Carl F. Curran II Bridge, was officially opened to traffic April 26. It is named for a native East Bradyite who was killed near Fallujah, Iraq, while serving with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 2004.

I. Harrison Kriegish can be reached at ikriegish@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1887.


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