July rain, flooding take toll on road work plans in Western Pa.

Tom Fontaine
| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Jeremy McCracken is used to playing catch-up.

A PennDOT highway foreman in Bridgeville, McCracken said emergency repairs connected to this summer's furious rainstorms and flooding pushed his crew's scheduled maintenance work to the backburner.

Crews across the county are in a similar predicament. Scheduled work that isn't completed before the summer road construction season ends will be delayed until next year, when a full slate of new maintenance projects will demand attention.

“This kind of work sort of messes up your work plan, but emergencies come up and you have to deal with them,” McCracken said as he stood on more than 100 tons of soil on a shoulder of Piney Fork Road in South Park.

“It's all about prioritizing,” McCracken said.

The soil replaced ground that the overflowing Peters Creek washed away in July. McCracken said flooding closed a low-lying section of Piney Fork between Triphammer and Snowden roads — near a railroad tunnel known locally as the “Green Man Tunnel” — on two separate occasions. The washout left a 1½-foot dropoff on the western side of the road that is used by about 1,000 vehicles a day.

“It was a safety concern,” McCracken said.

Work done by McCracken's seven-man crew included unclogging a nearby culvert to limit flooding and filling in the washed-out area along the road, grading it to make it level with Piney Fork.

South Park and 11 other communities declared states of emergency during July's flooding. The worst occurred on July 10, when many areas received as much as 3 inches of rain in less than three hours in the morning, and more rain later in the day. High wind and lightning compounded the problems.

A week ago, Gov. Tom Corbett asked the federal government for disaster relief on behalf of Allegheny, Fayette, Washington and 11 other counties that were socked by storms. His office this week announced that businesses and homeowners could be eligible for low-interest loans from the federal Small Business Administration to make repairs. Damages and other costs are expected to exceed $19.8 million, he said.

Angelo Pampena, PennDOT's Allegheny County maintenance manager, said it's too soon to say how much his division will spend on emergency repairs.

Unanticipated expenses so far have included money for materials and overtime for workers, many of whom worked double shifts after storms to remove debris from roads to get them open again.

Damage was widespread, affecting areas that included Potato Garden Road in Findlay, Piney Fork and Snowden roads in South Park, Boston Hollow Road in Elizabeth Township, Saxonburg Boulevard in Cheswick and Saltsburg and Verona roads in Penn Hills.

Most of the county's roughly 200 maintenance workers tackled emergency work following a half-dozen recent storms that resulted in flooding and road closures, Pampena said.

Pampena said PennDOT budgets about $10 million a year for summer maintenance work in Allegheny County.

Emergency repairs take a bite out of that.

“We don't have unlimited funding. We will have to roll some work into next year,” Pampena said, estimating emergency repairs could continue for another month.

The summer construction season typically ends on Oct. 31. Pampena said he will sporadically pull crews off emergency work to tackle scheduled repairs in an effort to complete as much planned work as possible this season.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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