Monday, February 11, 2008

Brady Street Brimingham Bridge

News on Friday of an "emergent situation" on the Birmingham Bridge brought to mind two of the more dramatic events in Pittsburgh history. The Birmingham Bridge replaced the older Brady Street Bridge which was taken down by explosives in 1978. Technically speaking, the old Bridge was also the Birmingham Bridge at the time it was demolished, having been renamed not long before it's demise. Yet to this day I still will unconsciously give some of those incomprehensible Pittsburghese directions.. telling people to go over the Brady Street Bridge, typically prompting vacant stares.

A lot of the bridge's history is less than positive. A Homestead ironworker died during construction when he fell from a girder in 1976. Then on May 23, 1978, local ironworker Ralph Winner Jr. became trapped on top of the bridge while he was doing torchwork preparing the span for demolition, his leg trapped when the bridge shifted and then began to lean toward the new bridge. One of the more heroric efforts in town must be the work of Dr. Joseph Young who went up the bridge and amputated Winner's right leg in place. As an aside, I have no idea if it is the same Ralph Winner of Pittsburgh who has a patent for a device to help amputees. See US Patent number 4,587,865.

A week later the old bridge would be brought down by explosives, which was quite an event unto itself. My own childhood memories of the event are someone clouded. I had a clear memory that there was a problem with the explosives used in the demolition. Yet childhood memories are not to be trusted always. While I thought the first attempt to bring down the bridge failed, that is incorrect and on May 30, 1978 the span was dropped into the river. There was a problem with the span blocking the river to traffic which forced the Army Corps of Engineers to come in and take over from the PennDOT contractor for the final deconstruction of the bridge in order to expedite clearing a channel in the river.

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