After nearly a century, 'grand' old Greenfield Bridge makes way for the new
December 28, 2015 8:27 AM
The Greenfield Bridge falls onto the Parkway East Monday morning.
Hundreds of residents were able to watch the implosion of the Greenfield Bridge Monday from their own homes.
The Greenfield Bridge is demolished in a controlled explosion over the Parkway East Monday morning.
A demolition worker makes his way through the twisted steel and crumbled concrete after Monday's demolition of the Greenfield Bridge.
Eight support pillars topped by steel decking start to tumble down to the Parkway East after a nudge from an excavator. The pillars on the Schenley Park side of the bridge failed to fall after explosives dropped the bridge Monday morning.
Spectators cheered the implosion of the Greenfield Bridge Monday morning, and dust can be seen in the background following the blast.
By Dan Majors and Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
You might think a city with as many bridges as Pittsburgh wouldn’t get so worked up over losing one.
But the Greenfield Bridge did more than link the neighborhood of Greenfield to Schenley Park and Oakland for 94 years. It also connected residents with a sense of history.
“There’s something grand about the bridge,” said Steven Titlebaum, 47, who remembered walking across it in his youth, when he would play miniature golf in Schenley Park. “The decorations on the end seem to have more of a personality than the current steel bridges. I feel like there’s more grandeur.”
Mr. Titlebaum, who lives in Takoma Park, Md., but grew up in Squirrel Hill, was among the hundreds huddled on the hillsides Monday morning to watch 1,400 pounds of explosives bring the historic but derelict span down in a mighty cloud of dust and debris on the parkway below. A new bridge is to be built in its place by spring 2017.
Demolition crews said the 9:20 a.m. implosion was “near perfect,” with only a couple of stubborn concrete pillars that refused to tumble until they were nudged over by workers in a bucket excavator a few hours later.
“It’s a relief,” said Patrick Hassett, deputy director of public works, who lives in Greenfield and has been overseeing the project since 1999. “It’s been especially consuming for the past few months. But everything went like clockwork.”
Almost. There was a glitch or two in the signal for the air-horn that sounded the three-minute warning, and a couple of people ventured into the 800-foot safe zone around the blast site, forcing a 20-minute delay.
“But that’s to be expected in an urban environment,” Mr. Hassett said. “In the end, it fell like it was planned. It’s down on the ground, where it’s supposed to be. It was kind of hard to imagine what it was going to look like [without the bridge], but there it is. It’s gone.”
While everyone likes watching stuff get blown up, some residents turned reflective during the bridge's last moments, describing the arching span as a public artwork that evoked a fading era.
Peggy Smyrnes-Williams, who was among the crowd watching from Overlook Drive in Schenley Park, called it a moving moment, a sign of progress as Pittsburgh evolves and welcomes young transplants.
“Nothing lasts forever,” said Ms. Smyrnes-Williams, who grew up in the area and lives in Squirrel Hill. “But it’s still poignant to me.”
Sally Scheidlmeier, 47, has lived in Greenfield for 26 years and traveled across the bridge almost every day. She won a raffle to push the ceremonial plunger that marked the detonation of the dynamite.
“It wasn’t as loud as I thought it would be,” said Ms. Scheidlmeier. “But it was exciting. I’d like to do it again.”
Demolition contractors attending a town meeting earlier this month told concerned residents that the impact of the explosion would be similar to the fireworks displays so popular in Pittsburgh. It was “an air-blast,” they said, meaning most of the vibrations would be through the air, as opposed to through the ground like an earthquake. For that reason, there was little worry about damage to nearby property.
City Councilman Corey O’Connor said the only effect as far as he knew was the impact the event had on businesses and restaurants as spectators gathered afterward, calling the morning “a win-win situation.”
Still, the loss of the bridge, which was closed Oct. 19, has been an inconvenience for Greenfield residents, who are to be detoured through side streets for the next year and a half.
“On behalf of the Greenfield community, we’re thankful and we’re very optimistic, because this shows we are rebuilding, not just a neighborhood, but a city,” Mr. O’Connor said moments before the implosion. “I think that’s what we’re investing in today.”
The $17.5 million project is being financed through a combination of federal (80 percent), state (15 percent) and city (5 percent) money.
The Greenfield Bridge, which crossed above Interstate 376 between Oakland and the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, was brought down by Dykon Explosives Demolition Corp. and Kesco Inc., working with Mosites Heavy Construction. The pieces fell onto a cushion of 4,000 cubic yards of dirt spread atop the parkway to protect it.
The parkway is expected to remain closed between the Oakland and Wilkinsburg exits for at least three days as crews remove the debris and then inspect the road.
Drivers leaving Downtown and headed eastbound toward Monroeville will use Exit 72A at Oakland, re-entering the highway at 78A in Wilkinsburg. Drivers coming into the city, traveling west from Monroeville, will exit at 78B, go through Wilkinsburg and the East End, and re-enter the highway after passing through Oakland. Local traffic can stay on the inbound parkway to Swissvale, Exit 77.
“This has been a fairly disruptive process during the holidays,” said Kevin Acklin, the mayor’s chief of staff. “We’re going to work hard to get this cleared in the next few days and then get this bridge rebuilt.”
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