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Bethlehem bridge, same design as the collapsed Pittsburgh bridge, due to repairs

The Philip J. Fahy Memorial Bridge in Bethlehem — one of five Pennsylvania bridges PennDOT plans to evaluate after a similarly constructed bridge in Pittsburgh recently collapsed — was in fair condition after its last inspection in 2020.

The Fahy and four other bridges are of a “K frame construction,” meaning the weight is placed on single supports with no secondary backup, similar to the Fern Hollow Bridge, which collapsed Friday. That collapse, which injured 10 people, came after the bridge showed deterioration during a September inspection that was not bad enough to require its closure, the Associated Press reported.

The Fahy Bridge, which was built in the 1970s, is on a two-year inspection schedule, PennDOT spokesperson Ron Young said.

“The Fahy Bridge is rated in fair condition [after its 2020 inspection],” he said.

However, repairs are planned for the bridge.

“A contractor will begin work soon to make structural steel repairs to several of the support legs on the bridge over the river, Lehigh Valley Railroad, Monocacy Creek and Delaware and Lehigh Canal,” Young said. “They will weld small steel plates at seven locations on the bridge support legs. This work is very minor and was planned well before the incident last week in Pittsburgh.”

He said that work is part of a bridge preservation contract awarded in September that includes eight Northampton County spans. The contract calls for various repairs including concrete deck repairs, deck overlays, deck joint repairs/replacements, bearing replacements/retrofits and substructure concrete repairs.

Work on all eight bridges is anticipated to be complete in October 2023, Young said. The contractor is working on the Minsi Trail Bridge in Bethlehem and will move to the Fahy Bridge soon.

“[The Lehigh Valley has] other bridges considered ‘single-support’ throughout the region, such as truss, covered bridges and arch bridges,” he said. “However, our bridge unit staff said the majority of bridges in the region have some form of redundancy in their support system.”

PennDOT is evaluating the condition of each bridge with a similar structure to the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh.

“Based on initial evaluation, all of the other bridges are in fair or better condition and are currently able to carry legal loads [which do not require the bridges to be posted for weight restrictions],” Young said. “PennDOT will be conducting field validations of these structures as well.”

A $25 million repair project on the Fahy Bridge was completed in 2017, with work on the superstructure, substructure and a new deck and sidewalk.

The Fahy bridge is one of eight state-owned bridges in Bethlehem, city Public Works Director Mike Alkhal said.

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