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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. Such complexity, but presented in an orderly pattern! 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.
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. After PennDOT demolished the Donora-Webster Bridge, the Hulton Bridge became the third largest. Even outside of Pennsylvania, any bridge with a 500+ foot simple truss span is extremely rare. Even historically spans of this size were rarely built. They represented the most complex of engineering achievement in metal truss bridge construction. Spans of this size were often closely followed in engineering periodicals because of the uncommon complexity of their construction and design.
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 lton 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.
ThThe 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.
Pennsylvania's Historic Bridge Inventory remarks that the lton 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!
SuSuch a finding would normally be interpreted to be absolutely insane in any other state. Had HistoricBridges.org at the time taken the immense amount of time and research needed to produce an official National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, it is almost certain such a form would have been accepted by the Keeper of the National Register. The arguments for listing would have been rock solid. Simple truss spans in excess of 500 feet represent the greatest of engineering achievements in truss design, and this 1909 bridge was among the oldest surviving highway trusses with a span in excess of 500 feet. That is an EASY Criterion C (Engineering Significance) listing for the National Register. Going a step further and seeking a listing with "National Significance" would not have been out of the question even, given how few states have spans of this size. There were additional areas of significance that might have only added support for this clear path to a National Register listing.
Unfortunately, here in Pennsylvania, the "Not Eligible" finding was not challenged by any authorities (and comments by HistoricBridges.org at the time were swiftly dismissed and swept under the rug), and no individuals had the time or money to prepare a full Nomination Form to submit to the Keeper. Therefore in the planning process the bridge was considered ineligible for the National Register! 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. It is sad that such an immensely important historic structure was able to be cast aside so easily, and at such an enormous cost to taxpayers. Such large and costly projects should not be developed and undertaken with such a lack of public and consulting party discussion.
Also, it is worth noting, that among the seven largest Pennsylvania truss spans in the Commonwealth considered when this narrative was written years ago today all of them have been demolished since the significance of the Hulton Bridge was considered by PennDOT. The now-demolished bridges include the Masontown Bridge, Donora-Webster Bridge, Charleroi-Monessen Bridge and the Tunnelton Bridge. The loss of these bridges is devastating for Pennsylvania's heritage, however their demolition also drastically increased the rarity and significance of the Hulton Bridge. This fact was of course ignored by PennDOT and PHMC. For those who know the region well, you may have noted that the Easton-Phillipsburg Bridge was not mentioned as an extant example. This state-line 550 foot Pennsylvania truss bridge is not owned by PennDOT or any Pennsylvania municipality. It is owned by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) which has put PennDOT to shame by doing the exact opposite of PennDOT and preserving not some but ALL of its historic bridges. The DRJTBC bridges should be considered separately from Pennsylvania bridges given their ownership and state line location, and the only comparisons that should be made are the evidence of feasible paths to preservation that for years the DRJTBC has repeatedly demonstrated. The DRJTBC has provided the country with one of the greatest services for historic preservation: by keeping PennDOT away from an entire swath of historic bridges that without a doubt PennDOT would have demolished long ago, an assessment based on simple observation.
For further discussion of the loss of big river historic truss bridges in Pennsylvania, see the section titled "A Legacy of Destruction On Two Great Rivers" on the Donora Webster Bridge narrative.
It should have been named the "Projectile Vomit Memorial Bridge." Because you will want to when you drive over the bridge. What are those stupid things sticking up into the air? What stupid things you ask? You'll know when you drive on the bridge. You can't miss them. An engineer contacted HistoricBridges.org and suggested they be called guillotines because of their appearance. You will wish they were so you could end your misery when you have the misfortune of casting your eyes upon this abomination. Whoever thought that a few pillars of concrete cast with stone-shaped formliners would make what is nothing more than an ugly slab of steel scarring the landscape look like anything more than what it is? This is like putting perfume on a skunk! Worse, it was like a really bad smelling perfume! Do you really think it makes a difference? Why waste the taxpayers money on such stupid idiocies? All it did was insult the engineers of decades past (engineers like those who designed the historic Hulton Bridge). The engineers in the time of the historic Hulton Bridge didn't need to try to cover up an ugly bridge with ridiculous nonsense... and in fact many engineers condemned the few who dared engage in this lackluster practice. Instead, the goal was (as it always should be) to design the actual load-bearing structure in a manner that is attractive. The bridge itself should be beautiful. The historic Hulton Bridge was an outstanding example of an aesthetic that was derived from a beautifully complex repeating pattern of trusses, bracing, and even the v-lacing and lattice in the members. The truss design of the Hulton Bridge served a utilitarian engineering need, while also producing an outstanding aesthetic. Other bridges in the Pittsburgh area more overtly show an attempt to focus on aesthetics, such as the Three Sisters Bridges, yet they still follow the proper rule of producing aesthetics from functional elements of the bridge structure, like the suspension bridge towers.
The replacement Hulton Bridge fails in every account of aesthetics. The "stone" piers are not real, it is fake stone formliner cast into concrete. Engineers tried this when concrete first started to be used in bridge work in the 1880s. By 1905-1910 there was a transition away from this practice, and in fact this practice was later condemned as engineers learned that rather than make concrete look like stone, the concrete should express itself in architecturally beautiful manners that do not trick viewers into thinking it is a different material. The steel beams of the replacement Hulton Bridge are also a huge visual failure. The haunched beams are not a visually pleasing curve like the top chord of the historic bridge. Instead, the steel beams of the replacement bridge look much like those of the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Pittsburgh, which is frequently reviewed as the ugliest bridge on the three big rivers in Pittsburgh.
In all fairness to the engineers, this review of the replacement bridge may be a bit unfair. It would be impossible to design a replacement bridge of any aesthetic that could hope to take the place of the truly unique and beautiful (also heritage-rich) qualities of the historic Hulton Bridge. A better attempt at an aesthetic replacement could never hope to be an improvement.
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.
This historic bridge has been demolished. This map is shown for reference purposes only.
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