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Ohio River Barge Incident Affects Pittsburgh Bridges

Holland McKinnie
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Over the weekend, an unexpected maritime incident on the Ohio River prompted urgent action as 26 barges broke free and drifted downstream, striking infrastructure and necessitating the temporary closure of multiple bridges in the Pittsburgh area. The barges, owned and operated by Campbell Transportation Company, became a critical safety concern after they were reported adrift late Friday night near Pittsburgh.

Authorities swiftly responded to the crisis, with the U.S. Coast Guard and local law enforcement working to secure the barges. Natural barriers or the Coast Guard near critical structures, such as the Emsworth Lock and Dam, stopped some barges. “Our immediate priority is ensuring public safety and minimizing any potential environmental impact,” a representative from Campbell Transportation said.

The McKees Rocks Bridge, a vital artery for the local commuting public, was one of the structures at risk and was closed as a precautionary measure. It was reopened after inspections confirmed it had not sustained damage. According to Steve Cowan, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman, “The police department closed the bridge until our bridge unit was able to inspect the structure.” He confirmed, “They found no damage.”

Local authorities indicated that the high water levels on the river, resulting from recent heavy rains, likely contributed to the incident. Despite the dramatic scenes of the barges hitting the Sewickley Bridge, which was also preemptively closed, officials managed the situation without reports of significant injuries or pollution. This incident underscores ongoing concerns about the structural integrity of America’s aging bridges, especially after the Key Bridge collapsed in Baltimore last month after being struck by a ship. 

In light of these events, the resilience of infrastructure to natural and human-made challenges is once again in the spotlight. Local officials, including Stephen Shanley, Allegheny County’s public works director, noted that barges frequently become loose and collide with bridges in the area. Even though previous incidents have not led to severe damage, this weekend’s events serve as another reminder of the risks posed by America’s aging infrastructure.