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Hulton Bridge

Jonathon Hulton Memorial Bridge / Oakmont Bridge


Hulton Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Bridge Documented: June 12, 2004, July 1, 2006 and July 31, 2007
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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Hulton Road (PA-2082) Over Allegheny River
Oakmont: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Structure Type
Metal 22 Panel Pin-Connected Pennsylvania Through Truss, Fixed and Approach Spans: Metal 11 Panel Pin-Connected Parker Through Truss, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1909 By Builder/Contractor: American Bridge Company of New York, New York and Engineer/Design: Allegheny County Department of Public Works

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
505 Feet (153.9 Meters)
Structure Length
1544 Feet (470.6 Meters)
Roadway Width
21 Feet (6.4 Meters)
1 Main Span(s) and 4 Approach Span(s)
NBI Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)

Bridge Documentation

This Bridge's Future Is At Risk!

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

Visit the PGHBridges.com Page For This Historic Bridge

Visit The Official Project Website

This unique landmark historic bridge is slated for demolition by Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) as soon as September 2015! Ugly replacement construction has already begun!

A Work of Art

Set aside any historic value this bridge has (and it has a lot) and just look at the beauty/aesthetics of this bridge. This bridge is everything that makes a truss bridge spectacular. Featuring both Parker approach spans and a Pennsylvania truss main span, its truss configurations and complex bracing system form a complex geometric art based on triangles that is in turn complimented by the soft, graceful curves of the top chords on the bridge. The complex geometric art form of the bridge is only furthered by the extensive v-lacing and lattice present in the built-up beams used on the bridge. The bridge's design makes it seem larger than it is, when you stand on the deck and look up at the elaborate network bracing, which at the tallest part of the truss is three panels high. The design of the bracing system makes driving across this bridge feel a little like a tunnel, as the number of sway panels mean that the overhead sway bracing merge together to create a tunnel-like feeling, which only makes the bridge feel all the more large and impressive. The bridge is set upon beautiful stone piers, set against the beautiful cliff that forms the river valley on the western side river.

Historically Significant

The Hulton Bridge should also be considered to have great historic significance. First, it is noteworthy for having a Pennsylvania truss configuration, which is an uncommon truss configuration. The bridge is also noteworthy for its vertical endposts. However its greatest source of significance is that not only is it a Pennsylvania truss, the Hulton Bridge's main 505 foot channel span is currently the fourth largest Pennsylvania highway truss span in the Commonwealth. If PennDOT moves forward with a plan to demolish the Donora-Webster Bridge, the Hulton Bridge would then become the third largest. Also, it is worth noting, that among the seven largest Pennsylvania truss spans in the Commonwealth, five of them, including the Hulton Bridge, are slated for demolition and replacement, or have already been demolished since the significance of the Hulton Bridge was considered by PennDOT. These doomed bridges include the Masontown Bridge, and the Donora-Webster Bridge. The now-demolished bridges include the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge and the Tunnelton Bridge. The loss of these bridges is devastating for Pennsylvania's heritage, however their demolition also drastically increases the rarity and significance of the Hulton Bridge.

The Hulton Bridge is also significant for its use of pinned connections. Although a later example of pinned connections, all surviving examples of pin-connected truss bridges should be considered significant because the technology has not been used in bridge construction since roughly 1920 and is a rapidly disappearing technology. Also, the use of rivets and built-up beams (as well as the attractive v-lacing and lattice that form the built-up beams) while not yet rare on today's roadways, are also antiquated construction methods not used in modern construction for decades, and thus this technology is disappearing from today's roads at a steady rate.

For a bridge of its age and size, the Hulton Bridge also retains good historic integrity. Certainly, there have been rehabilitations and repairs over the years that did replace some rivets with bolts and other such alterations, but the reality is that the bridge is on the whole unaltered, retains its original design and retains the vast majority of all its original material.

Other technical facts about bridge: Navigation Vertical Clearance: 50 Feet (15.2 Meters), Vertical Clearance for traffic: 14 Feet (4.3 Meters). Previous rehabilitation dates: 1991, 2000.

The awarded contract for building the truss bridge was $269,371.86. At least one person was killed during the building of the bridge. A June 16, 1909 notice in Engineering and Contracting stated the following:

Victor O. Friday, a. member of the Friday Contracting Co., Fitzsimmons Bldg, Pittsburg. was almost instantly killed on June 9. at Hulton, PA... where his firm is building the piers and shore abutments for the new Oakmont bridge across the Allegheny River. Mr. Friday was standing under a derrick which was raising heavy stones from a barge when the boom of the derrick broke and, falling, struck him before he had time to move from the spot on which he was standing. He was 32 years old and was a son of the founder of the above firm.

Targeted For Demolition By PennDOT

HistoricBridges.org has repeatedly attempted to communicate and work with PennDOT to try to develop win-win scenarios where a historic bridge can be preserved, while also ensuring that the needs of a functional infrastructure are met in a cost-effective and safe manner. Unfortunately, these efforts have not reaped any positive results. HistoricBridges.org continues to welcome any opportunity to work with PennDOT to develop preservation solutions for the historic bridges of Pennsylvania, and hopefully PennDOT will have a change of heart and join many other states in the Union that have a strong commitment to historic bridges. In the meantime, the rate of historic bridge demolition in Pennsylvania, coupled with the significance of those bridges being demolished is absolutely agonizing to witness.

Unfortunately, with this bridge, PennDOT has not shown any willingness to consider preserving this historic bridge, with the possible exception being if a third party was willing to take ownership of the bridge. The problems with the bridge, as PennDOT perceives them, are concerns that the bridge will develop structural deficiency in the future and also being functionally obsolete (not wide enough for traffic volumes). Certainly, the bridge is indeed functionally obsolete, since the bridge backs up with traffic frequently and has a relatively narrow roadway width. However the bridge is not in very bad shape structurally. Its condition suggests that rehabilitation is far more appropriate than demolition and replacement. A well-designed, comprehensive rehabilitation could likely yield decades of continued vehicular use, and perhaps a century of use for non-motorized traffic only with only average maintenance costs. As such, HistoricBridges.org believes that two scenarios are appropriate for the bridge. One would be to build a one-way bridge next to the historic Hulton Bridge and convert the historic Hulton Bridge into a one-way bridge as well, to form a one-way couplet of vehicular bridges. The other alternative would be to construct a new two-way bridge next to the historic Hulton Bridge, and preserve the historic Hulton Bridge in place for non-motorized use only.

Unfortunately, PennDOT has done what they so conveniently seem to do with nearly every historic metal or concrete bridge in the Commonwealth, and they wrote off all preservation alternatives and jumped right to the cookie cutter scenario of building a new two-lane bridge next to the historic bridge, and then demolishing the historic Hulton Bridge even though its not in the way of its replacement. This scenario is very wasteful because it involves the demolition of a historic bridge that could easily be left standing next to its replacement, either for non-motorized use, or completely closed and abandoned to stand as a look-only historic landmark.

A serious problem with PennDOT's process is that when they research the rehabilitation of a historic bridge like the Hulton Bridge during their consideration of alternatives, they fail to hire a firm with proven experience in developing a historic bridge rehabilitation. As a result, they get cost estimates and life expectancy estimates that are grossly inaccurate and not favorable for the historic bridge. Not only do these poorly designed rehabilitations and cost/life estimates reduce the likelihood that PennDOT will choose to rehabilitate the historic bridge, they also needlessly scare away potential third parties who might otherwise be interested in taking ownership of the historic bridge upon completion of a replacement bridge. Further, PennDOT has recently been claiming that their modern replacement bridges will last 100 years. They often present this claim to the public in a way that makes it sound like the new bridge will last 100 years without hardly any maintenance costs, while also claiming that maintaining a historic bridge will be very costly in comparison. This is very misleading because the fact is that the only way any bridge serves traffic for a century is if it is maintained and rehabilitated as needed throughout its life. New bridges will require maintenance over their lives too. Further, PennDOT may be overestimating the quality of their new bridges. Pre-stressed concrete bridges built between the 1950s and the 1980s are already falling apart and requiring replacement in many cases. Further, bridge inspection manuals warn inspectors that pre-stressed concrete (the preferred modern building material) must be carefully inspected because the tendons that give pre-stressed concrete its strength can deteriorate extremely rapidly (more rapidly than traditional reinforced concrete) when even the smallest cracks develop in the concrete. Also, claiming that modern bridges can last 100 years when the methods and materials used in modern bridges (like pre-stressed concrete) have not even been invented for 100 years yet, is a bit premature and should not be the deciding factor that condemns a historic bridge. Also, if a rehabilitated historic truss bridge has high maintenance costs down the road, it is likely because the initial rehabilitation was of poor quality. The key is to start with an initial rehabilitation that carefully repairs any deterioration, not doing a quick fix patch job, then future maintenance costs should be far more reasonable.

The proposed replacement bridge as illustrated PennDOT below is extremely ugly, compared not only to the existing historic Hulton Bridge, but the additional sparkling historic bridges that the nearby City of Pittsburgh has beautifully preserved. At the same time, it would be a gross waste of money to have tried to design a nice looking modern bridge. Beauty simply does not happen in modern bridge construction anymore. Only by the preservation of the existing historic bridge could the future see beautiful bridge at this location. It is assumed this replacement will no longer be called the Jonathon Hulton Bridge, since to do so would be extremely insulting and would not honor one of the first landowners in the Oakmont area. HistoricBridges.org suggests the bridge might be named the Projectile Vomit Memorial Bridge.

Pennsylvania Authorities Insane Claim That Bridge Is Not Historic

Pennsylvania's Historic Bridge Inventory remarks that the Hulton Bridge should be considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (meaning it would normally be considered "officially" historic by the U.S. government) as a contributing structure to a potential Allegheny River Boulevard Historic District. This fact was either ignored or dismissed by authorities, allowing them to bypass the federal Section 106 process to consider alternatives to demolishing and replacing this bridge. Furthermore, all of the above listed areas of high historic significance of the Hulton Bridge were completely ignored by PennDOT and the PHMC. In other words, this extremely rare and significant bridge was interpreted as not historic! Such a finding would normally be interpreted to be absolutely insane in any other state. Here in Pennsylvania, the finding was not challenged by any authorities. Finding the bridge not historic made life a lot easier for PennDOT and the PHMC, since they did not have to do Section 106. It is unclear why PennDOT would be so desperate to avoid Section 106. All it involves doing is involving the public and considering whether there are any "feasible and prudent" alternatives to demolishing and replacing the historic bridge. Even for bridges that are not historic, it would seem sensible to consider whether an extremely costly demolition and replacement project that will greatly disrupt the environment is truly required, or if the proposed plan is the best way of going about it. However no serious consideration of alternatives was given. Only a token glance at one or two possibilities for preservation were considered and quickly dismissed.

Its Not To Late To Change and Save Historic Hulton Bridge

Until the moment that the trusses of the Hulton Bridge are knocked into the river or blown up, it is not to late to save the Hulton Bridge. HistoricBridges.org strongly believes that the Hulton bridge is an extremely strong candidate for preservation in place next to its planned replacement bridge, where the historic bridge can serve non-motorized traffic.

Allegheny County Council has demonstrated that they have a long-term interest in having a non-motorized crossing of the Allegheny River in this area. The Hulton Bridge is the perfect bridge to serve in this capacity. Currently serving heavy vehicular traffic with no posted weight restrictions, this is a bridge that could likely be converted for non-motorized and pedestrian use with reasonable initial and long-term costs.


Photos and Videos: Hulton Bridge

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A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. View the photos for this bridge in a reduced size which is useful for mobile/smartphone users, modem (dial-up) users, or those who do not wish to wait for the longer download times of the full-size photos. Alternatively, view this photo gallery using a popup slideshow viewer (great for mobile users) by clicking the link below.
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