Pittsburghpedia: Get sucked in by this ‘The Bathtub’ explainer

Know your weird and wonky Pittsburgh terms? This post is part of a new series we’re calling Pittsburghpedia, a handy glossary of words and phrases unique to our city that’ll help you #talklikeyoulivehere. Let’s fill you in. Today’s entry … The Bathtub.

WHAT IS IT? A depressed section of Interstate 376 where the highway passes very close to the Monongahela River and sometimes through it during periods of high water.

FUN FACT: About 40,000 vehicles pass through the area daily, per Steve Cowan, a PennDOT spokesperson.

BATH TIME: This section of I-376 was built as part of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway project in the 1950s, according to Cowan.

The problem with flooding dates back that far as well, per the Post-Gazette, though it’s unclear exactly when the nickname was first coined.

While “The Bathtub” used to flood when the river reached 18 feet — a fairly common occurrence — engineers installed a wall in the ’80s that raised the threshold to 24 feet — less common but not unheard of. Still, flooding remains a concern there and while PennDOT is aware of those concerns, it says further improvements have been impeded by logistical and financial challenges.

THE FIX IS IN? Cowan says it isn’t a plumbing or drainage issue that causes the area to flood, but rather it’s simply the positioning of the roadway there.

“Basically, the elevation of the road is lower than the elevation of the river during high river flows,” Cowan explained, adding that PennDOT is in the process of preparing a study for alternative solutions to the problem.

SEE IT FOR YOURSELF: You’ll pass through the bathtub on I-376. On certain days, though, you may need a kayak.  

Got a Pittsburgh term you’re curious about? Ask away.