As the Brady Street Bridge approached its 82nd birthday — two years after traffic ceased traversing it — its demolition took a turn for the worse.
Worker Ralph Winner became trapped on May 23, 1978, while cutting steel, forcing a doctor to amputate his leg to free him.
The bridge between the South Side and Uptown was first declared unsafe for heavy loads more than 15 years earlier.
In 1963, PennDOT announced plans for a replacement. And by 1968, it was briefly closed because of growing deficiencies.
So what happened during the next 10 years? Bureaucracy.
The new six-lane bridge (eventually known as the Birmingham) was first targeted to open in 1973.
River piers were driven into the Monongahela that year and land piers built in 1972. Two years passed without work because PennDOT initially marked too many homes and businesses for demolition.
The cost went from $10 million to $30 million between 1967 and 1977.
“All of which illustrates the kind of slap-dash planning that robs Pittsburgh motorists of necessary facilities and wastes the money available for such projects,” The Pittsburgh Press editorial board wrote in the early 1970s. The paper made an apt comparison of the project to the Fort Duquesne “bridge to nowhere” of the previous decade.
Winner’s 1978 amputation spooked demolition crews to the point they did not want to announce when the full implosion would take place. They hoped to discourage curiosity seekers.
“The accident was tragic enough,” PennDOT engineer David Spagnolli told The Pittsburgh Press. “This is a dangerous job, and we don’t want gawkers in the area.”
They also had to make sure it didn’t topple the wrong way — into the $30 million Birmingham Bridge.
After Winner’s accident, a crew used a cherry picker to lower down a man who would cut the steel with an acetylene torch and plant explosives.
It was a delicate process, bringing down an 1895 bridge.
“If she goes, we’re risking the life of only (one) man,” an ironworker told the Press on May 27, 1978.
The bridge came down the next day, ultimately without any damage to the Birmingham, and sunk partially into the Mon. It took about a week, but the river was reopened for barge traffic by June 5.