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County to add enhanced lighting on Sister Bridges

Investment will showcase the most visible and identifiable images of the region


Last updated 9/6/2022 at 8:42pm

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has announced the county will be installing enhanced lighting on the Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson bridges, otherwise known as the Sister Bridges, that will highlight the spans’ architectural and historical significance. The installation of the 1,080 lighting fixtures with 601,440 color LED lights (360 fixtures and 200,480 lights on each bridge) is expected to be complete in December 2023.

“I’m delighted that we were able to make this project happen and to invest in our beautiful, unique bridges – the only trio of identical bridges in the world – that so many people cross over and see every day,” said Mr. Fitzgerald. “To further enhance and highlight these assets also contributes to our investment in beauty, art and quality of life in this community.”

Following the success of the Energy Flow art installation on the Rachel Carson bridge from 2016-2018, Mr. Fitzgerald tasked the county’s Department of Public Works with investigating the possibility of installing permanent enhanced lighting on the Sister Bridges. The county contracted with Michael Baker International to formulate options. Once complete, the county invited several stakeholders to provide input and discuss the options before a final decision was made. Those stakeholders included the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, Office for Public Art, and Riverlife.

“We were thrilled with the success of Energy Flow on the Rachel Carson Bridge, demonstration how creative and thoughtful art could further enhance one of the region’s most recognized assets creating a tremendous benefit for our community and a breathtaking experience for visitors to our beautiful Downtown,” said Jeremy Waldrup, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

The idea of illuminating the Sister Bridges with more than just roadway lighting dates back to 1929, when the Duquesne Light Company strung garlands of lights onto the bridges in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Edison electric light bulb.

In 1989, several local agencies and organizations commissioned a study to determine the feasibility of installing enhanced lighting on 11 bridges within the City of Pittsburgh, including the Sister Bridges. The group also hosted a two-day event called “Light the Bridges” that included temporary installation of uplighting on the Roberto Clemente Bridge.

In 2002, thanks to financial support from the Duquesne Light Company, blue disk lights were installed on the Roberto Clemente Bridge suspension chain pins along with hanger and tower uplighting, replica luminaire fixtures on the pylon, and replica roadway lighting fixtures.

“Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation wishes to express our excitement and enthusiasm for this project to light the Three Sisters,” said Arthur Ziegler, president emeritus and Michael Sriprasert, president. “These bridges are perhaps the finest examples of what should be called the Pittsburgh style – a blending of engineering, art, and architecture to create complimentary designs intended not only to add beauty to the city, but to preserve city views from the bridges themselves.

“PHLF has a long history supporting and advocating bridge lighting, starting with the Smithfield Street Bridge in the 1980s and the Roberto Clemente Bridge in 2002, which we had hoped would turn into a project to light all Three Sisters. We applaud County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, FHWA, PennDOT, and Allegheny County Department of Public Works for their leadership and funding to make this project a reality. It will truly help build pride in our community.”

Energy Flow was a temporary lighting installation on the Rachel Carson Bridge that was initially commissioned for the City of Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial. The collaboration between environmental artist Andrea Polli and Ron Gdovic of WindStax, a Pittsburgh-based wind turbine manufacturer, was so popular that the installation was extended. Over 27,000 multicolored LED lights positioned along the bridge’s vertical hangers showed a real-time visualization of wind speed and direction as captured by a weather station located on the bridge.

“The creativity and exuberance of Energy Flow sparked the public imagination for how our historic bridges can be celebrated throughout the seasons, and demonstrated that temporary projects can expand our vision for the places we know and love,” said Sallyann Kluz, executive director of the Office for Public Art. “We are excited to see the illumination of the Sister Bridges move forward as a permanent investment by the federal, state and county governments, and look forward to working with the team to ensure that the lighting provides a visually cohesive celebration of this historic architecture.”

The enhanced lighting on the Sister Bridges will be controlled using Digital Multiplex (DMX) and wireless technology as well as fiber optic and ethernet cabling. In addition to the enhanced lighting, there will also be an opportunity to create and preprogram light shows and color schemes, including at the pixel level on the linear fixtures. A county team will work with stakeholders on a policy and process for the use and creation of light shows and color schemes that complement the architectural and historical significance of the Sister Bridges while also celebrating the significance of the bridges as a visible and iconic representation of this region.

“We are thrilled about bringing lighting back to the iconic Sister Bridges. This is a bold project that truly activates and celebrates Pittsburgh’s exceptional riverfront, and it coincides with two of our near-term projects on either side of the Sister Bridges – Allegheny Riverfront Park and Allegheny Landing,” said Riverlife CEO Matt Galluzzo. “The Sister Bridges are also central to our vision to complete the ‘Loop,’ Pittsburgh’s 15-miles, 1,055 acre loop of riverfront parks and trails. Illuminating these iconic structures allows Pittsburghers to further imagine a thriving waterfront experience for all. We are excited to be working with Allegheny County and commit to supporting this project to create a most unique experience on Pittsburgh’s beloved rivers.”

The overall Roberto Clemente Bridge rehabilitation project, which is being managed by Public Works, costs $34 million. About $6 million of that is for the enhanced lighting on all three bridges. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is paying 80% of the cost, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is paying 15%, and Allegheny County is paying 5%. The project was designed by Michael Baker International. The primary construction contractor is Mosites Construction and Development Company, and electrical subcontractor Thoroughbred Construction Group will be installing the lights.

“We continue to appreciate the excellent partnership we have with Allegheny County and were happy to support their continued efforts to improve and beautify their infrastructure and critical links to this region’s core,” said Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, District 11-0 Engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Installation of the enhanced lighting is expected to begin in September. In addition to the ongoing Roberto Clemente Bridge closure, periodic closures between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. of the Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson bridges will be required to complete the lighting work. Public notification of those closures will be made by the department, but the bridges will never all be closed at the same time. There will also not be closures during and immediately after sporting events and special events on the North Shore.

“The Sister Bridges mean so much to this region, and it’s hard to overstate just how seriously we take the immense responsibility of maintaining these historic and architecturally significant structures,” said Stephen Shanley, P.E., Public Works director. “We are extremely pleased with how this project has come together, and we will always do everything possible to ensure that the bridges’ appearance makes Pittsburghers proud.”

The Sister Bridges, which were constructed between 1925 and 1928, are each listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Roberto Clemente Bridge carries about 9,000 vehicles, the Andy Warhol Bridge carries about 6,000 vehicles, and the Rachel Carson Bridge carries about 10,000 vehicles daily across the Allegheny River.


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