The Liberty Tunnels and Bridge
The Gateway to the South Hills

Postcard from 1924 showing the new Liberty Tunnels.
A 1924 postcard showing the Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels along West Liberty Avenue.

<Additional Photos and Related Links>




Early South Hills Transportation Difficulties

In the latter part of the 19th century, the city of Pittsburgh was growing rapidly to the east, the north, and on the South Side. However, the five-mile long, 400 foot geological obstacle known as Mount Washington presented a major barrier to development in the South Hills area.

With transportation mostly limited to horse-drawn wagons and walking, residents of the South Hills had to rely on a series of inclines to traverse the hill, or they took the long way to the city, either up Warrington Avenue and down Arlington Avenue, or along the Saw Mill Run Valley to the West End. These difficulties slowed the process of South Hills suburbanization, and the area retained a sparsely populated rural flavor, consisting of mostly rolling hills and tracts of farmland.

In 1904, the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel was built to extend streetcar service to the South Hills Junction and on to the southern boroughs. The new tunnel, the electric railway and the advent of motorized transportation accelerated development in West Liberty Borough (Brookline/Beechview) and other southern communities like Dormont and Mount Lebanon. As the population grew, so did the amount of vehicular traffic. Soon it became necessary to find a quicker and easier way to get traffic to and from downtown Pittsburgh.

South Hills Junction - 1906  The Bell House Hotel and Tavern on Warrington
Avenue near West Liberty Avenue - Circa 1910.
The South Hills Junction in 1906 (left) with a billboard advertising home sales in Brookline, the 15-minute suburb,
and the
Bell House Tavern in 1910, located on Warrington Avenue near the intersection with West Liberty.

A Tunnel Is Proposed

In 1909 the South Hills Board of Trade persuaded the Allegheny County Commissioners that a tunnel would be a boon to the region. The added cost of shipping goods and building supplies over or around Mount Washington was becoming a severe detriment to land development. Proponents estimated that the tunnel would dramatically increase property valuation and act as a catalyst to real estate development in the region. It was agreed that a new Mount Washington tunnel, and a connecting bridge over the Monongahela River, were essential to the growth of the city, but no plans were in place and no promises were made by the commissioners as to when such a project would begin.

While the overwhelming consensus throughout the South Hills was that a tunnel was necessary, the location of the proposed tunnel became a source of heated debate. Several different plans were introduced, each with the southern and northern tunnel portals emerging in different locations. Acceptance of the individual proposals had much to do with where one lived and the benefits to that particular community, with the overall benefit to the city overlooked.

The first proposal to receive widespread support was the Shingiss-Haberman plan, or the "high" tunnel. The southern portal would have been at Haberman Avenue and Warrington Avenue, up the hill from the South Hills Junction. The northern portal would have been on Mount Washington, above Arlington Avenue and East Carson Street. A double deck bridge over the Monongahela River would carry motorists to Shingiss Street, atop the Bluff near Duquesne University. This proposal placed the northern portals eighty feet higher and the southern portals 184 feet higher than the present-day tubes. It offered the greatest benefit to the communities of Mount Washington, Allentown, Knoxville and Beltzhoover.

Map showing various proposals for the Liberty Tunnels location.
1919 map showing the various proposals for the location of the Liberty Tunnels. #1 is the Haberman, or "high"
tunnel. #2 is a proposed extension. #3 is the Morse plan, running parallel to the abandoned Neeld Tunnel,
#4 is a cut proposed by City Engineers, #5 and #6 were the Shalerville proposals. The seventh
alternative, the Bell Tavern or "low" tunnel, was adopted by the County Commissioners.

As time progressed, other proposals were put forth. One confederation of residents pushed for the tunnel to be built closer to the line of the present-day Fort Pitt Tunnels. This was called the Shalerville proposal, and was economically favorable to residents of Carnegie, Banksville, Bridgeville, Robinson and Crafton. Another alternative was submitted in 1914 by City Engineer W. M. Donley, who proposed a deep cut through Mount Washington, eliminating the need for a tunnel altogether.

The "High" Tunnel Or The "Low" Tunnel

The South Hills Tunnel Association, comprised of residents from Brookline, Beechview, Fairhaven, Dormont, Baldwin and Mount Lebanon, wanted a tunnel that followed a low line and exited at Saw Mill Run near West Liberty Avenue. This was called the Bell Tavern plan, or the "low" tunnel. It was so named because of the proximity of the Bell House Tavern to the southern portal location.

The low tunnel proposal would allow access to the Saw Mill Run valley and the valley that extended southwestward to Dormont and Mount Lebanon, and had the support of the State Highway Commissioner, Edward M. Bigelow. The low tunnel proposal had the southern portals in there present-day location, and the northern portals positioned at East Carson Street and South First Street, and had no accomodations for a direct link to a Monongahela River bridge.

Mensinger's Stone Quarry - 1913.    West Liberty Avenue, looking north towards the
proposed location of the Liberty Tunnels - 1915.
Mensinger's Stone Quarry was located along the hillside near the junction of West Liberty Avenue and Warrington.
Shown to the left in 1913, this spot would be, in 1919, chosen as the location of the southern portals of the
South Hills tunnel. To the right is a 1915 view looking north along West Liberty towards the hillside.

While South Hills residents and city planners debated on which tunnel proposal was best, the county itself began construction of a tunnel in the fall of 1915. Called the Neeld Tunnel, the plan was to run from East Carson and South Third streets to a southern portal sixty-seven feet below Warrington Avenue near Boggs Avenue. Shortly after construction began, opponents filed a lawsuit which challenged the county's authority to build tunnels. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against the county and work was halted.

"The Saga Of Pittsburgh's Liberty Tubes"
Geographical Partisanship On The Urban Fringe
An Article on the Tunnel Debates - by Steven Hoffman

"Liberty Tunnels Site Chosen After Exhaustive Research"
The Gazette Times - May 24, 1919

Eventually, after years of debate, in May 1919, the low tunnel proposal was adopted, with one change. The Allegheny County Commissioners ruled that the northern portal would be higher on the face of Mount Washington, so as to link up with a new bridge across the Monongahela River and not interfere with traffic on the already congested East Carson Street. With the recent victory of World War I in mind, both the tunnels and the bridge would carry the same name, "Liberty."

Building The Liberty Tunnels

Groundbreaking for the new tunnels was held on December 20, 1919. The estimated cost of the tunnels was $4,500,000. The contractor was Booth & Flinn, Ltd., the same firm that built the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel in 1904. Work was halted in 1920 due to an economic recession, then restarted in 1921. Work proceeded quickly, with the debris from the tunnel bores used in the creation of McKinley Park on Bausman Avenue.

Boring proceeds on the Liberty Tunnels in 1921.
The dirt from the dig was hauled to McKinley Park.
Boring proceeds on the Liberty Tunnels in 1921, as seen from the South Portal entrance along West Liberty Avenue.

"Structural Design And Ventilation Of Liberty Tunnels"
Engineering News-Record - Volume 85 - July 8, 1920

"Boring Liberty Tunnels At Pittsburgh"
Earth Mover - Volume 8 - March 1921

"Liberty Tunnels Construction, Pittsburgh"
Public Works - Volume 51 - July 23, 1921

Boring proceeds on the Liberty Tunnels in 1921.
The dirt from the dig was hauled to McKinley Park.
A working platform inside the tunnel for shoring up the sidewalls and ceiling. The rail cars were used to haul material.

The boring of the 5889 foot tubes was completed on May 11, 1922. By the beginning of 1924, construction was nearing completion. When the Liberty Tunnels were opened to traffic, in January 1924, they were considered an engineering marvel. The total cost of the project was $6 million, and at the time it was the longest automobile tunnel in the country. In addition to motorized transportation, horse-drawn wagons were permitted to use the tunnels until 1932, and a pedestrian walkway was present in each tube until 1975.

Because of the new Twin Tubes, as they were commonly called, real estate sales and housing development in the southern communities entered a another boom phase. The population of Brookline, Dormont and Beechview more than doubled as a result. Mount Lebanon saw a 500% population increase! Three farms in Brookline that were appraised at $68,000 in 1920 saw their property valuation increase to $1.3 million.

Freehold Real Estate Advertisement touting
the Bungalow Life in Brookline - 1924.
A Freehold Real Estate advertisement from 1924.

Carbon Monoxide Crisis

A unique problem that quickly surfaced was the issue the poisonous automobile exhaust fumes. Ventilation shafts were included the original plan and their design approved in 1922. However, in an effort to get the tunnels open to traffic as soon as possible, the installation of these vents was postponed until after the official dedication.

Five months after the opening of the tunnels, on May 10, 1924, there was a mass-transit strike that idled the Pittsburgh Railways streetcar service. Thousands of commuters turned to their automobiles to get to work, resulting in traffic jams all around the city.

During the morning rush hour, cars backed up inside the tubes and soon traffic came to a halt. While vehicles idled inside the tunnels, many motorists succumbed to the dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide gas and literally passed out at the wheel of their cars.

"Courage, Cool Courage, Looms Large As Day's
Crisis Reveals Unsung Heroes"

Pittsburgh Press - May 10, 1924

Until a solution could be found, the city began counting vehicles and tunnel use was restricted. Engineers worked with the U.S Bureau of Mines to install a ventilation system consisting of two pairs of 200-foot vertical shafts that continuously pumped fresh air into the tunnels from a mechanical plant located atop Mount Washington.

"Exhaust-And-Supply Ventilation Of A Long Street Tunnel"
Engineering News-Record - Volume 94 - 1925

The air flowed with the direction of traffic. At the exit of each tube, a pergola-like windbreak above the portal prevents cross-currents of outside air from obstructing the air flow leaving the tunnel. The ventilation shafts were operational by 1925, and traffic restrictions inside the tunnels were eliminated.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 1925
The northern end of the tubes in 1925. Bridge work was beginning and soon McArdle Roadway construction would start.
When the intersection was completed in 1928, a traffic circle was installed to facilitate the four-way flow of traffic.

The Liberty Bridge

Although the tunnels made a huge difference in travel time from the South Hills to the North Face of Mount Washington, getting to the downtown city center still required a turning onto Arlington Avenue, then heading downhill to Carson Street and across the Smithfield Street Bridge. The resulting congestion was relieved by the construction of the Liberty Bridge.

Construction of the $3.7 million, 2663 foot span began in 1925 and was completed in March 1928. After the bridge was opened, traffic flowed straight across the river to ramps leading to the Boulevard of the Allies and Forbes Avenue. McArdle Roadway, scaling Mount Washington from the tunnel entrance to Grandview Avenue, opened the same year. A journey that once took hours was now completed in a matter of minutes, providing further impetus to the escalating real estate values of South Hills property.

The Liberty Bridge shortly after opening in 1928.
A view of the Liberty Bridge from the Duquesne Bluff, looking to the southwest, shortly after opening in 1928.
Also visible is the new McArdle Roadway, running up the side of Mount Washington to Grandview Avenue.

The exit of the North Portals, now a four-way intersection, was adorned with a decorative traffic circle containing a monument to Liberty. As vehicular traffic increased, this large circle became a hindrance. When traffic signals were introduced in 1933, the circle was removed and the intersection cleared of any obstacles. A pole with traffic lights facing in all four directions was installed in front of the portals, out of the way of the vehicles.

A Dangerous Intersection

Another problem that became evident only a short time after the original opening of the Liberty Tunnels was the increasing traffic congestion at the intersection of Saw Mill Run and West Liberty Avenues. The resulting number of accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians was alarming.

In 1930 the busy crossroads was identified in a Pittsburgh Press feature documentary as one of the city's ten deadliest traffic locations. By 1932 there were 25,000 vehicles using the tunnels each day, already exceeding the designed capacity. By the end of the 20th century that number had more than tripled, to nearly 80,000.

The Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1932.    The Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels
and the traffic circle in November 1932.
Vehicles pass at the South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels (left) in 1932, before the installation of traffic signals.
The sign on the tunnel reads "R - U - A Safe Driver?" To the right is a view of the North Portals,
in November 1932, with a similar sign posted that reads "We're Here For Safety."
The traffic circle outside the North Portals was removed in 1933.

Tunnel Upgrades

For fifty years after their dedication, the Liberty Tunnels remained basically the same as originally designed. In 1939 the road was repaved, and new lighting and drainage installed. Then, in 1975, the Tubes received a $7.2 million overhaul. The renovations included a new road bed, upgrades in lighting, installation of antenna wires for AM Radio reception, and the removal of the long abandoned walkways to enlarge the traffic lanes.

Years of dirt and grime were removed from the inside, and the outside facades were refurbished. The deteriorating concrete surface was covered in both brick and steel siding, giving the tunnels what designers considered a distinctive "Rust Belt" look. These were the last major repairs done to the tunnels for the next three decades.

Motorist view exiting the North Portal with
City of Pittsburgh in background - 1960    Motorist view exiting the North Portal with
City of Pittsburgh in background - 1974
A motorist's view in 1960 (left) and in 1974 (right) as they exited the inbound North Portal heading into Pittsburgh.

The Liberty Tunnels Interchange

Beginning in the 1930s, a number of proposals were introduced to modernize the four-way intersection at the corner of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard to better facilitated the numerous traffic patterns at the crowded intersection. The streetcar tracks were diverted to the Palm Garden Tressel in 1940. Although helpful, this improvement did nothing to address the ever-increasing flow of automobile traffic.

Not until 1996 was the problem addressed. At this time the intersection was used by 140,000 commuters daily. With the pending reconstruction of the Fort Pitt Tunnels scheduled to begin in 2000, and the expected increase of traffic through the Saw Mill Run Corridor due to detours, the state finally acted on the issue.

Michael Baker Corp. was awarded a $40 million contract to design and build a new interchange. The ambitious project was completed in just three years. The design involved several components, including seven intersecting streets, 3,500 feet of connector roads, two bridges, two box culverts, five retaining walls, drainage, lighting, signing and five signalized intersections.

The Liberty Tunnels Interchange - 2004.
The Liberty Tunnels Interchange, shown in 2004, was a major transporation improvement for South Hills residents.

"Gateway To Suburbia"
Michael Baker Jr. Inc. recounts its experience designing the multiple award-winning
Liberty Tunnels Interchange, and how software contributed to its success.

The Liberty Tunnels Interchange was officially dedicated on November 19, 1999. The results were stunning, and traffic flow through the intersection was dramatically improved.To the delight of South Hills residents who used the Tubes for their morning and afternoon commute, what was once a dreaded snarl of rush hour traffic became a simple one or two light delay.

In addition to the new southern interchange, engineers made improvements to the tunnels themselves, installing a cement roadbed with reflective barriers on the sides, and repainting the walls. The smooth roadway, and the ease of travel created by the modern interchange were huge upgrades in convenience for South Hills travelers.

North Portal - 2010    South Portal - 2010
Photos from 2010 showing both the Southern Portals (left) and the Northern Portals.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction

In 2008 work began on a comprehensive, $18.8 million overhaul of both the interior and exterior of the tunnels. The facades of the southern and northern portals underwent a complete facelift. The brick exterior was torn down, exposing the original concrete exterior. Once the deteriorating concrete was removed and shored up, decorative panels were installed that mimicked the tunnel's original appearance.

In addition to the exterior work, extensive repairs are being done to the interior of the tubes. The cracks on the inner walls are being repaired, cross-sections renovated and the walls thoroughly cleaned and recoated. Modern electrical lighting and safety systems are being installed. The prime contractor is Swank Construction Company.

Construction work is still underway, with a completion date scheduled for the fall of 2014. When the project is completed, the new-look Liberty Tunnels should be really nice.

Liberty Bridge New Portal Design - 2014.
An artists rendering of the new portal appearance after the reconstruction is completed in 2014.




Photos Of The Liberty Tunnels And Bridge

Click on images for larger pictures

  Before The Liberty Tunnels
  Constructing the South Portals
  Constructing the North Portals
  Boring The Twin Tubes
  The Southern Portals
  The Northern Portals
  Carbon Monoxide Crisis
  Liberty Tunnels Ventilation

Liberty Bridge Construction  
Liberty Bridge Dedication  
Pittsburgh's Liberty Bridge  
South Interchange Proposal  
Liberty Tunnels Interchange  
Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction  
Vintage Postcards  
Related Links  

 



Before the Liberty Tunnels - 1915

Workers laying a sewer line at the end
of West Liberty Avenue - May 1915.    West Liberty Avenue approaching
Warrington Avenue in July 1915.
Workers installing a new sewer line along West Liberty Avenue (left) in May 1915 near the base of Mount
Washington. A stone quarry stands along the hillside where the Liberty Tunnels southern portals
would soon be constructed. The photo on the right shows a view looking north along
West Liberty Avenue towards the Mount Washington hillside in July 1915.

West Liberty Avenue approaching
Warrington Avenue in October 1915.    West Liberty Avenue approaching
Warrington Avenue in December 1915.
West Liberty Avenue, looking north from Pioneer Avenue toward the intersection with
Warrington Avenue in October 1915 (left) and again in December 1915.




Constructing the South Portals

Constructing the South End

The photos above and below show the Southern Portal area during construction in 1921.

Constructing the South Portals    Constructing the South Portals

Constructing the South Portals - July 23, 1921    Constructing the South Portals

The photos above and below show the boring and construction of Southern Portals in 1921.

Brady Stewart Gallery Photo    Brady Stewart Gallery Photo

Dumping debris in McKinley Park - 1921
A train of Western four-yard dump cars discharging a load of debris in McKinley Park from the tunnel dig.




Constructing the North Portals

Constructing the North End    Constructing the North End

The photos above and below show the Northern Portal area during construction.

Constructing the North End




Boring The Twin Tubes (1919-1922)

Some design specs for the Liberty Tunnels.

Construction inside the Liberty Tunnels - 1921    Construction inside the Liberty Tunnels - 1921
Sidewalls, forms and traveling incline (left) for concrete rail cars; Erecting steel forms for arch concrete.

The Steel
 Ribbing lining the inside of the Liberty Tunnels
The structural steel ribbing placed inside the tunnels was spaced at different intervals to account for varying environmental conditions. The use of steel H-beams reduced the amount of timber used during construction.

Motorists travel through the Liberty Tunnels. The
ventilation shafts are visible mid-way through the tunnels.
Inbound motorists travel through the tunnel. Ventilation shafts are visible at the mid-way point.




The South Hills Twin Tubes

West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard
at the intersection with the Liberty Tunnels.
The southern portals of the Liberty Tunnels, at the intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run
Boulevard, in 1930. This crossroads was deemed one of the
ten deadliest traffic locations in the City
of Pittsburgh by the Bureau of Traffic Planning. This was a time when increasing automobile,
street car and pedestrian traffic combined to create a lethal mix, and fatal accidents
were becoming a serious problem. In July 1930, the Pittsburgh Press deemed this
to be one of the worst in the city. A city-wide effort was initiated to help
make several heavily used roadways safer for all forms of traffic.

A safety sign outside the Liberty Tunnels in 1932.
A traffic safety sign at the entrance to the Tubes in 1932.

The South Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in 1932.    The South Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in 1932.
The southern portals, at the intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard, in 1932.

Looking south from above the Liberty
Tunnels South Portals in 1932.
Looking south towards Brookline from atop the south portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1932. Pioneer Avenue is
visible to the left, heading up the hill towards the homes in the Paul Place Plan and West Liberty School.

The Liberty Tunnels South Portal - 1936.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1936.

The Liberty Tunnels in 1939.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1937.

The Liberty Tunnels in 1954.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1954.

Liberty Tunnels South Portal, early 1940s.    Liberty Tunnels South Portal in 2001.
The South Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1940 (left) and in 2001. The original facade of the tunnels
had been replaced with the brown brick and steel exterior during a 1975 renovation.

Approaching the Liberty Tunnels South Portal - 2011
Approaching the Liberty Tunnels traffic interchange and the South Portals in 2011.




The Northern Portals

The Pittsburgh end of the Liberty Tunnels
prior to construction of the bridge - 1924.
The City of Pittsburgh looking from north to south. Visible on the hillside across the river, above Carson Street
are the North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels. The year is 1924, shortly after tunnel construction ended.
Work on the Liberty Bridge would begin the following year, in 1925. Until then, motorists entering
the city from the south would turn right onto McArdle Roadway, then left onto Arlington
Avenue to Carson Street, then into town via the Smithfield Street Bridge.

The Liberty Tunnels,
 North Portal - 1924
The North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in December 1923. The tunnels opened to traffic one month later.
With no bridge in place, both inbound and outbound lanes temporarily veered off towards Arlington Avenue.

The northern portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1926.
The outbound Northern Portal, shown here in 1926.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 1928
The North Portal and traffic circle in 1928. Only four years after opening, the white facade of
the tunnel entrance already shows the effects of the sooty atmosphere of the Smokey City.

The Liberty Bridge in 1940.
The traffic circle at the tunnel entrance was removed in 1933.

Crews clean up after a mudslide at the
exit to the inbound North Portal - 1933.
The inbound North Portal (left) in 1933, as maintenance crews clear the roadway after a mudslide.
The Mount Washington hillside can be unstable, and landslides have been persistent problem over the years.

The Liberty Tunnels in 1939.
The Liberty Tunnels in 1939, after the installation of new lighting and a new road bed.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 1940
By 1940 the traffic circle had been removed and replaced by Traffic Division officers. Traffic patterns also changed
slightly. Coming inbound out of the tunnels there was no more left turns onto McCardle Roadway.
Approaching the tunnels, left turns to McCardle were also eliminated.

Exiting the Liberty Tunnels North Portal - 1947
Exiting the Liberty Tunnels inbound North Portal around noontime in 1947. This was what motorists saw as they
entered the dark, murky atmosphere of the "Smokey City" before environmental controls were established.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 1950's
Approaching the North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in the 1950s.

The Liberty Tunnels, North Portal - 2011
The Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 2011.




Thousands Overcome By Automobile Exhaust
May 10, 1924

Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924
A crowd gathers outside the Liberty Tunnels North Portals during the carbon monoxide crisis in the tubes.

Courage, Cool Courage, Looms Large As Day's
Crisis Reveals Unsung Heroes

By William G. Lytle, Jr.

Panic, heroism, cool courage - the raw elements of disaster - rode the confusion that jammed the exits of the Liberty Tunnels today when poison death swept its vapors through the packed tunnels, smothering more than a score of persons into insensibility.

Into a half-hour of frightful chaos, scenes of bravery, fear and disorder that passed beyond description crushed their speeding pictures when a traffic jam at the north end of the tunnel caused the line to slow up for a period so long that deadly fumes had time to do their work.

Minutes when death for trapped motorists and pedestrians was imminent transformed ordinary men into heroes. Men who had risen from their breakfast tables with never a thought but to resume their daily routine found themselves cast in the lists of heroism by fate.

Hundreds of persons milled around the tunnel mouth, breathless. Those who had fled in time came staggering from the entrances whence the gas murk rolled. They were gasping, eyes bloodshot, hearts pounding.

PLUNGE INTO TUBES

Policemen, firemen, motorcycle officers, the disaster squads of the United States bureau of mines, civilians, plunged into the tubes where men and women lay unconscious in their automobiles stricken where the gas terror had overtaken them.

Lights were obscured within the tubes by the density of the gas. Rescuers groped through the darkness, fumbling from car to car, soaked handkerchiefs over their faces, hunting for those who had fallen.

Thomas Morrison and C.W. Hooker, two patrolmen, were two whose bravery stands forth as something to be remembered. With no gas masks, both fought their way hundreds of yards into the death trap. They carried out, on their backs, four persons, who would have died but for their arrival. Morrison found one man sprawled in the bottom of a coupe, his hands grasping at the door. The fact that there was no motor key in the car indicated that a panic-stricken companion had fled, leaving the other occupant of the car to his fate.

There were many brave men like Hooker and Morrison who performed mighty deeds in that welter of foundered cars and unconscious men and women, and vanished when their work was done so that their names are unknown.

The story of Charles Maire, an electrician on the Panhandle division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was pieced together, after he was found lying on his face beside the railroad tracks, 200 yards away from the scene of the disaster. Those who found Maire think he was among the first to rush to the tunnel to aid in resue work when the alarm was sounded.

TORTURED WITH GAS

After helping to carry out those who had dropped, his own lungs tortured with the gas, his heart laboring desperately, Maire wandered vaguely back toward the work he had left. There the gas felled him, without warning. It acts that way.

A workman, shoving his dazed, gas scarlet face into a blue handkerchief, staggered from an orifice between the tubes. He swayed a moment, speechless. No one noticed him for a short interval, so great was the confusion. He waved his arms. Then without warning, exactly as if someone had kicked him in the knees from behind, the man's legs doubled up and he fell on his face on the concrete pavement.

Rescuers picked the victim up. He fought them madly, still silently and in the clutch of the gas, while he grabbed at his throat with horrible gestures.

Officers and men of the Pittsburgh police force never distinguished themselves with greater gallantry than in the black depths of the tunnel.

Liberty Tunnels Dedication    Liberty Tunnels Dedication
First aid is given to policemen overcome by carbon monoxide fumes while rescuing people from inside the tunnels.

ORDER RESTORED

As order was forced upon the excited, jabbering throng at the mouth, a rift in the crowd showed a row of men in the gray-black uniform of the motorcycle service, writhing on the curb. Rescuers had oxygen tubes to the mouth of each man.

One officer slumped on his back on the cushion of an automobile, his gunbelt flapping loosely, his shirt open, his chest rising slowly with each painful breath. His comrade at his side was able to sit up, supporting an oxygen tube with trembling arms and sucking at the good air as if his strained body would never get its fill of oxygen.

These men had raced into the tubes time and again. Almost overcome, their courage had driven them back for more. When the last victim was carried out, the men of the motorcycle division still beat back once more into the evil-smelling, choking fumes lest some persons might still be fighting for life in one of the abandoned cars.

As the last cars were towed out and certainty was established that no other person remained in the tubes, the men of the motorcycle squads toppled to the street and lay there. They had fought the fight to the end.

Alexander Tyhurst and Roy Brandt, two patrolmen, knocked down connecting doors within the tubes and allowed the passage of air. They found three of their comrades, Cox, Kepeler and Sergeant A.L. Jacks, huddled against the wall and carried them to safety.

Ammonia was sprayed in the tubes by the disaster squads of the bureau of mines to counteract the carbon monoxide.

Brave men and their work alone held back certain tragedy, when the Liberty Tunnel disaster counted first toll in Pittsburgh's "stupendous folly," the street car strike.

* Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Press - May 10, 1924 *

Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924
Thousands of Pittsburghers, accustomed to going to work in streetcars, jammed into motor vehicles in an effort
to get to their places of employment. Traffic jams, like this one on West Liberty Avenue, were typical of
of the road conditions that prevailed on virtually every artery leading to downtown Pittsburgh.

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Cars Jam At Mouth And Tube Blocked

More than two score of men and women are in a serious condition as the result of being overcome by fumes in the new Liberty Tunnels today when the increased automobile traffic due to the streetcar strike caused two lines of cars to be blocked for the entire length of the tunnel, one and one-fifth miles.

The tubes were closed after the jam but later were reopened with a motorcycle patrol directing the cars.

For more than an hour police officers, firemen, rescue workers from the United States bureau of mines, and volunteers fought the fumes to rescue the motorists. Scores of others abandoned their cars when they realized the danger of their situation and came staggering from the tube in a dazed state.

Police officers, with no protection other than handkerchiefs over their faces, worked until they dropped and had to be removed by their fellow rescue workers. Firemen with gas masks and search lights assisted this work as did a crew of twelve men from the government bureau of Schenley Park.

Inability of traffic officers to keep autombiles moving away from the Brownsville Avenue end of the tube onto Carson Street caused the cars to become stalled back in the tube. For a few minutes the passengers and driver in the automobile thought the blockade was only temporary and would soon be relieved. When they realized the jam was critical, they abandoned their cars and ran toward the ends of the tube for safety.

POLICE TAKE CHARGE

Assistant Superintendent of Police Joseph Dye, assisted by all of the police commissioners, many lieutenants and squads of patrolmen, assumed charge of the confused situation and directed the rescue work. Patrol wagons, ambulances and fire equipment waited at the mouth of the tunnel to be of service.

Many of those removed from the gas-filled tubes were given first aid treatment at the homes of Fred Eberle on Brownsville Road. Others were taken directly to one of the several hospitals which sent ambulances to the scene of the disaster.

RESCUER OVERCOME

Charles Eisenbarth, aged fifty-three, foreman of the Allegheny County road department, who is caretaker of the tubes, made fou8r trips into the deadly carbon monoxide fumes to rescue the trapped mototists and pedestrians.

As he emerged from his last trip, he was able to walk but a few staggering steps at a time. He was writhing in his agony of pain and thrashi about with his arms as he tried to breath. Although almost unconscious and unable to talk, Eisenbarth fought savagely when rescue workers attempting to give his restoratives.

Addison Gumbert, County Commissioner, and Thomas Pfarr, County Fire Commissioner, were early on the scene and set about making the inquiries and observations which probably will be the basis for an investigation.

Traffic was detoured away from the Tubes by way of Warrington and Brownsville Avenues.

THE VICTIMS

Bert Jacks, E.J. Thompson, H.J. Duffy, Harold McAfee, Joh Hilson, Henry Cox, Louis Kedeler, Frances Little, M. Rosen, Alex Heazlett, Joseph Galsea, Alfred Carelly, G.W. Barcla, Regina Dempsey, Katherine Haas, S.J. McClelland, Hannah Lawrence, Charles Maire, A.M. Hutchens and James McCarthy.

All of the victims were overcome by fumes and transported to local hospitals, many in serious condition. After proper medical treatment, all were eventually released.

* Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Press - May 10, 1924 *

Liberty Tunnels - May 20, 1924
The top and center photos show a number of policemen being resusitated after being overcome with carbon monoxide
fumes while rescuing persons caught in the traffic jam in the Liberty Tunnels. The bottom photo shows members
of the fire department's gas squad who donned their masks and helped clear the traffic jam from the tunnels.




Liberty Tunnels Ventilation

The intake vent in the center of the tubes.    The exhaust vent in the center of the tubes.
The ventilation intake and exhaust shafts located near the center of each tube.

An architectural drawing of the intake and
exhaust shafts inside the Liberty Tunnels.

An architectural drawing of the wind shafts
at the portals of the Liberty Tunnels.

The Tunnel Ventilation Power Plant
located atop Mount Washington.

Ventilation for the Liberty Tunnels is provided by this power plant, located atop Mount Washington along Secane
Avenue. The plant, built in 1925, can push 1,100,000 cubic feet of air per minute through the tunnels.

The Tunnel Ventilation Power Plant
located atop Mount Washington.

One of the eight large electric motors
that power the tunnel ventilation system.
One of the eight large electric motors that power the tunnel ventilation system.




Liberty Bridge Construction

Artist's Conception - South End of Bridge

The photos above and below show an artist's conception of the proposed Liberty Bridge before construction began.

Artist's Conception - North End of Bridge

One of the mid-piers of the Liberty Bridge in 1925.
Construction of the piers that would support the Liberty Bridge as it crosses the Monongahela River.




Liberty Bridge Dedication

Liberty Bridge Dedication - March 27, 1928

The Liberty Bridge was dedicated on March 27, 1928. Coupled with the opening of the Liberty Tunnels in 1924, the new bridge was a major achievement for the City of Pittsburgh in the advancement of its evolving transportation network.

The tunnels themselves shortened the travel time from the South Hills to downtown significantly. The accompanying bridge lessened that time even more. A motorist could now get from the intersection of Saw Mill Run Road and West Liberty Avenue to downtown Pittsburgh in less than five minutes on a good day. Only five years earlier, the same drive took nearly an hour or longer. Prior to the advent of the automobile, that trip could last several hours.

Liberty Tunnels Dedication

The Liberty Tunnels and Bridge were responsible for a near quadrupling of property values in the South Hills. At the dedication of the Liberty Bridge in 1928, County Commissioner Joseph G. Armstrong's two grandchildren undid a ribbon to start a procession of cars across the new span.

For the next ninety minutes, automobiles four abreast streamed across it. They went through the tunnels and along South Hills streets and roads lined with thousands of residents. Newspapers called it the longest automobile procession in Pittsburgh history. The combined cost of the new tunnels and bridge was $9,400,000.

The Liberty Bridge in 1928.
The Liberty Bridge in 1928, shortly after the March dedication. Tha span towers over
all other Monongahela River bridges in Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle.




Pittsburgh's Liberty Bridge
(National Register of Historic Places - 1988)

Liberty Bridge view from North Portal - 1933.
The Liberty Bridge in 1933. The traffic circle outside the tunnels is being removed.

Liberty Bridge view from North Portal - 1933.
Pedestian, vehicular and horse-drawn traffic passes over the Liberty Bridge in 1933.

The Liberty Bridge in 1940.
The Liberty Bridge and the North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels in 1940.

The Liberty Bridge during a rush
hour traffic jam in 1950.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951 during the height of rush hour traffic.

Cars turn off Liberty Bridge onto
the Boulevard of the Allies - 1951.
Cars make the turn off the Liberty Bridge onto the Boulevard of the Allies in 1951.

The Liberty Bridge with a huge sign on the
north portal of the Liberty Tunnels
announcing the Allegheny County Fair.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951 during mid-day traffic. A large advertisement announces the Allegheny County Free Fair.

The Liberty Bridge during a rush
hour traffic jam in 1950.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951 during the height of the evening rush hour. As is still done today there are three
lanes heading in the outbound direction to accomodate the large numbers of vehicles leaving the city.

The Liberty Bridge - 1951.
The Liberty Bridge in 1951. Note the Balantine Beer sign and clock on the Mount Washington hillside.

Liberty Bridge - 2004
The Liberty Bridge, shown in 2004, is one of several bridges spanning the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh.

Liberty Bridge - 2009
The Liberty Bridge in 2009, looking south from Second Avenue towards Mount Washington.

Liberty Bridge and the Pittsburgh skyline during daytime - 2011.    Liberty Bridge and the Pittsburgh skyline during daytime - 2011.
The Liberty Bridge in 2011, looking north towards the skyline of Pittsburgh during daytime and evening.

Liberty Bridge - 2012.
The Liberty Bridge in 2012, eighty-four years after the grand opening in March 1928.

Liberty Bridge - 2013.
The Liberty Bridge in 2013, as seen from underneath the span along Second Avenue.




Southern Portal Interchange Proposal - 1957

Proposed plan for new interchange at
 Liberty Tunnels and Route 51 - 1957.

In 1957, this plan for a proposed realignment of the interchange at West Liberty Avenue and Route 51 (Saw Mill Run) at the Liberty Tunnels was highly recommended and very close to becoming a reality. For many years, the city had been searching for a solution to the traffic congestion at this busy intersection. The trolley lines had already been diverted, but The ever-increasing amount of vehicular traffic was the cause of massive rush hour traffic jams. At this time, the tunnels were handling nearly three times their designed capacity.

The proposed plan called for thru-traffic on Saw Mill Run Boulevard to be reouted onto the south face of Mount Washington, beginning near Bausman Street. Traffic would bypass the busy tunnel entrance by traveling over the southern portals to a point at the intersection of Saw Mill Run and Warrington Avenue. Unfortunately for South Hills motorists, the plan fell through. It was not until 1999 that a solution was found to relieve this traffic bottleneck.




Southern Portal Interchange Reconstruction - 1999

The new South Portal
 Interchange - 1999.

This is a 1999 graphic showing the new South Portal Interchange at the intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard. For decades the city had been trying to find a way to ease the traffic congestion at the entrance to the tunnels, which were now being used by over 80,000 vehicles per day. At rush hour, the delays could run upwards of one hour.

Finally, after years of frustration, the city acted. By the end of the 20th century the new interchange was in place and traffic congestion was lessened to a large degree.

The Liberty Tunnels Interchange at night.
Vehicle and overhead lighting glimmers along the Liberty Tunnels Interchange in the early evening.




Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction (2011-2014)

The Liberty Bridge in 1940.
Liberty Tunnel Reconstruction - 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.    Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.
Liberty Tunnel Reconstruction - 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.    Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.
Liberty Tunnel Reconstruction - 2013.

Reconstruction work on the
South Portal - July 1, 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - July 1, 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.    Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.

Reconstruction work on the
South Portal - July 1, 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Southern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.

Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - 2013.    Liberty Tunnels Reconstruction - October 3, 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - 2013.

Reconstruction work on the
North Portals - October 26, 2013.
Reconstruction work on the Northern Portals of the Liberty Tunnels - October 26, 2013.




Vintage Postcards Of The Liberty Tunnels And Bridge

The northern portals of the Liberty Tunnels
and the traffic circle in the early 1930s.    The northenr portals of the Liberty Tunnels
and the traffic circle in the early 1930s.
Postcards from the early 1930s showing the North Portals of the Liberty Tunnels and the traffic circle.

The Liberty Bridge - 1939    The Liberty Bridge - 1939
Postcards from the early 1930s showing the Liberty Bridge, looking to the south (left) and towards downtown.

Postcard showing the renovated north
portal of the Liberty Tunnels. The
large circular monument was removed
and replaced by a smaller traffic signal.
The North Portal of the Liberty Tunnels in postcard from the early-1940s.




Related Links

The Old Bell House Tavern at Saw Mill Run - 1890
Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon Railroad
The South Hills Streetcar Junction
Streetcar Service in Brookline
Coal Hill/Mount Washington
Boulevard Of The Allies
West Liberty Avenue Reconstruction - 1915
Saw Mill Run Road at West Liberty Avenue - 1925
Saw Mill Run Road at West Liberty Avenue - 1931
History of Saw Mill Run Boulevard

Twin-Tube Auto Repair at the intersection
with Saw Mill Run Road in 1925.    The Tunnel View Hotel at the intersection
of West Liberty Avenue and Warrington Avenue.
Two businesses that took their name from the Liberty Tunnels were the Twin-Tube Auto Repair (left) and the
Tunnel View Hotel, both at the intersection of West Liberty and Warrington, shown here in 1925.

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