McKees Rocks Bridge Shut After Barges Break Loose Near Pittsburgh

McKees Rocks Bridge Shut After Barges Break Loose Near Pittsburgh


The authorities in Pittsburgh closed several bridges as a precaution after 26 barges loaded with coal broke loose on the Ohio River late Friday, drifting miles downstream and damaging a marina, as a flood warning was in effect for the river.

There is a risk that the barges could come into contact with the “substructure” of one of the bridges, the McKees Rocks Bridge, the McKees Rocks Police Department said in a statement early Saturday confirming its closure. The department said it closed the bridge because it was “not willing to take the risk.”

The barges are owned and operated by Campbell Transportation Company, based just downstream from the West End Bridge, which was also closed, as was the rail bridge to nearby Brunot Island, the city of Pittsburgh said in a statement.

While floating down the river, the barges caused “extensive damage” to a marina near Brunot Island, the city said. At least 11 barges were found and pinned against a riverbank near the island and held by a tugboat, the city said. But others continued downstream, with six going over the Emsworth Dam, about five miles farther.

The bridge closures came just weeks after a container ship struck Baltimore’s Key Bridge, causing it to collapse, killing six workers, disrupting a critical transportation link and prompting a huge salvage operation. That collapse, on March 26, raised concerns about the structural deficiencies of many major bridges across the country.

Pittsburgh authorities started a search for the barges after the first report at about 11:25 p.m. that several were adrift, according to a shift commander at Allegheny County’s 911 center.

It was unclear early Saturday why the barges had broken free or whether anyone had been injured. Three of the barges were empty, but 23 were loaded with dry cargo like coal, the city said, adding that no hazardous materials were on board.

The McKees Rocks bridge opened in 1931 and stretches more than a mile across the Ohio River. As part of the Blue Belt, the innermost of several roads that loop around Pittsburgh, the bridge connects Pittsburgh and the borough of McKees Rocks. About 25,000 vehicles cross it daily, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s data from 2023.

The West End Bridge, which opened in 1932, connects the West End to the North Side of Pittsburgh and is more than 1,200 feet in length. About 42,000 vehicles use the bridge each day, according to federal data. The rail bridge to Brunot Island, which is called the Ohio Connecting Railroad Bridge, opened in 1915 and carries two railroad tracks.

A flood warning was in effect until Saturday evening in Allegheny County, which includes the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, where water levels had risen above the flood stage, 25 feet, by early Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.


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