Hulton Bridge Brought Down By Explosives

Oakmont loses historic icon via implosion amid protests.

PITTSBURGH/ OAKMONT- There are demolitions of historic buildings and bridges that are justified because of their derilect state and safety concerns. While options of rebuilding are viable, the removal of safety hazards with no options left are logical.  Then there are demolitions of these historic structures that defy logic and break barriers of resistance of locals and agencies wanting to save them because of their potential reuse.

For the Hulton Bridge, named after Jonathan Hulton, one of the first settlers of Oakmont, the demolition of the 1909 historic bridge not only defied logic, but also challenged Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier record in terms of opposition by locals, historians and preservationists.

The bridge was imploded today, dropping all but one of the five pinned connected through truss spans into the Allegheny River. This happened just three months after the opening of its replacement span to the north. Workers wasted no time removing the decking and setting the bridge up for the planned implosion, ignoring last minute pleas to save the bridge.

The plan to replace and then remove the historic bridge was a quick and systematic process, where despite its unique design and construction history, both the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the State Historic Preservation Office agreed to declare this bridge non-historic.

This led to outcries of foul play from locals and preservationists alike, claiming, as Nathan Holth stated in his bridge profile in HistoricBridges.org, the rejection of its national historic status was part of the plan to streamline the process of replacing the bridge.

Photo taken in 2014 by Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Had the Hulton Bridge been declared eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Laws would have been enforced, forcing the state to look at options to keep the bridge intact once the new bridge opened. The 1544 foot (471 meter) long bridge featured four 260 foot long Parker trusses and one 508 foot long Pennsylvania petit through truss span with bedstead portal bracings resembling the letter X.

A similar design was found in the Donora-Webster Bridge, before the bridge was brought down in July of last year.  Despite protests, PennDOT proceeded to initiate the project, even ignoring the proposals to save the bridge- and this despite its rehabilitation done in 2000, where bridge parts were fixed and the entire structure was painted lilac.

With the Hulton Bridge gone, only the C.L. Schmitt Bridge at New Kensington and the West Mifflin-Riverton Bridge are the two remaining multiple-span through truss bridges left spanning the Allegheny River outside Pittsburgh. Yet given PennDOT’s track record of systematically destroying historic bridges despite opposition to the plan, these two bridges may be gone soon as questionable reasons will be found to justify the decision to take the structures down.

There are two ways to stop them: Have local governments or a private party take over the structures and work to maintain them, or protest the draconian policies to tear down the bridges in front of the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg. But that can be done if more people are actively involved in the efforts-

and have a will to learn more about the historic bridges and their role in the development of the transportation system in Pennsylvania and the US. Right now, the interest is more for football and Facebook. When they will take interest remains open.

Here are the clips of the demolition of the Hulton Bridge:

 

 

The Oakmont Historical Society, whose members are currently mourning the loss of their historical icon, produced a documentary of the Hulton Bridge, which includes tours across the bridge. Enjoy this 30+ minute documentary below:

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