Landslide repairs slow going in Alle-Kiski Valley
Ashleigh Hobbs thought Wednesday would be the day that Milltown Road in Plum would finally be open.
The Penn Hills resident instead found herself staring at a familiar gray barrier with a white-and-orange sign telling her it's still closed.
It's been that way since two landslides shut it down in 2015.
"I was kind of hoping it was open even though it had the sign that it wasn't," Hobbs said.
The landslides on Milltown Road are the oldest among state and county roads in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
There are more than a dozen others that are limiting passage on roadways.
PennDOT and county officials said limited money and time constraints are among the reasons slide projects in the A-K Valley have been put on the back burner.
Repairs to some state roads are expected to begin this year and next, while some don't have any work scheduled.
"Due to funding constraints, we have to prioritize our construction activities," said Steve Cowan, PennDOT spokesman. "Additionally, it is not as simple as just going out to make the repairs. There is a design process, right-of-way acquisition, utility coordination in some cases, and depending on the size of the repair, the project might need to go through the bid process."
Milltown Road is among those scheduled for repairs this year. It is estimated to cost between $1 million and $2 million and be completed by June 2018.
Also on this year's list are four state roads in Indiana Township (Saxonburg Boulevard, Church Lane, Little Deer Creek Road, and Log Cabin Road) and one in Fawn (Bull Creek Road).
On next year's schedule are fixes to state roads in West Deer (Mountain View Road) and Harrison (Saxonburg Road), and Bakerstown Road in Tarentum, which is maintained by Allegheny County.
At any given time, Allegheny County's public works department deals with 10 to 12 slides impacting roads. PennDOT's District 11, which encompasses Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, has 64 slides that need to be addressed.
Hobbs said she doesn't have any problem with PennDOT's progress on Milltown. Neither does Shelly Puskar, who has lived on the road for 20 years.
In fact, Puskar said the closure has deterred speeders; she hopes that it never reopens.
"It's a bit of an inconvenience, but it's quiet, and the lack of traffic is actually very welcome," Puskar said.
Harrison slide troubling
Harrison residents are upset with the lack of attention to a slide on Saxonburg Road, which is set to be repaired next year.
Harrison Commissioner Bill Heasley considers the road a safety concern and wants to know what the holdup is.
He said the road, which is heavily traveled, has deteriorated so much that the pavement is gone.
"Why they're waiting till next year is beyond me when it's ... in such bad disrepair right now," Heasley said.
Rich Osiecki is a bus driver for W.L. Roenigk bus company, which has a garage on Saxonburg Road. Osiecki said he drives through the Saxonburg slide on his way to work and through one on Bakerstown Road in Tarentum during his route.
Osiecki thinks PennDOT should be doing more. He said he got so frustrated with the slides that he reached out to his state representatives and to Harrison officials.
"It slows you down and it puts the fear of God in you sometimes — especially that one on Saxonburg Road," Osiecki said. "We pay the highest amount of gasoline taxes in the nation. There's really no excuse for the way these roads are."
Spokesman Steve Cowan said if there was a safety concern with Saxonburg Road, PennDOT would shut it down.
Jonathan Moses, a geotechnical engineer, said PennDOT is in the process of finalizing the right-of-way plan, which can take six to 12 months to clear.
Moses said in certain cases, PennDOT can get an emergency declaration from Harrisburg to fix problems and bypass restrictions, but not every landslide warrants that.
"We don't want to do that for every slide we run into, so it's really the ones that are a major route or have a significant effect to traffic," Moses said. "The smaller-volume roads, we typically don't consider those emergencies. As long as we put up (barriers) and stop signs and it's not encroaching into our road, then we're not quite as concerned about it."
A second slide in Harrison, on Oak Manor Drive, is estimated to cost $650,000 to fix. Traffic is limited to single-lane, alternating traffic there. No fix is scheduled.
Heasley said Oak Manor Drive doesn't see as much traffic as Saxonburg Road, but that doesn't mean the slide should be neglected.
Tarentum fix planned
Bakerstown Road, also known as Tarentum-Culmerville Road, has been reduced to a single, alternating lane since March, and reconstruction won't start until next spring. It is estimated to take four to five months to complete.
Mike Dillon, Allegheny County's deputy director of public works, said designs for landslide repair typically take two years. He said no money was budgeted for it this year and emergency repair money is being allocated for other projects.
Still, Dillon said, the project is a high priority for his department because the slide is affecting traffic. About 2,500 vehicles travel it daily.
"Anytime a road becomes restricted and is closed because of a landslide, it definitely gets bumped up to a higher priority," he said.
Dillon estimates the project will cost $1 million. He said the slide on Bakerstown is Allegheny County's only slide in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @maddyczebstrib.