Mon-Yough road crews keep up with late-weekend snowstorm
By Patrick Cloonan
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 3:51 a.m.
The Mon-Yough area was on the northern end of heavy snow late Sunday and early Monday, and it may be on the southern end of a storm late Tuesday and early Wednesday.
“Six inches,” Elizabeth public works director John Grossi said. “It was just nonstop snow. It kept going and going.”
“The guys were out there early and on top of it,” West Mifflin borough manager Brian Kamauf said.
“There was a little area, a sweet spot that got more than anyone else around them,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Bob Smerbeck said of the storm that left 1-2 inches elsewhere in Allegheny County.
“There were no unusual problems reported overnight,” county spokeswoman Amie Downs said of conditions on county-maintained roads.
County crews continued working despite the threat of a strike. Teamsters Local 249 president Joseph Rossi Jr., whose union represents about 50 workers, most of them plow and salt truck drivers, admitted the union is using the storm as leverage in its contract negotiations with the county.
But he said he wants to keep his members on the job.
“I don't want to go on strike,” Rossi said.
The workers have been without a contract for 13 months and are at odds with the county over pay.
The union wants the same raises other county employees were granted — 2 percent for 2013 and 2014 and 2.5 percent for 2015 and 2016. The county offered the raises but on a delayed schedule, according to the final offer rejected by the union on Sunday.
The truck drivers are responsible for plowing and salting 640 miles of road throughout the county, Public Works Director Steve Johnson said. He said the county will keep roads clear and salted in the event of a strike.
The continuing snowstorms are draining municipal salt bins.
“We ordered more (on Monday),” Elizabeth borough secretary Pam Sharp said. “We had to order 50 tons. The people who deliver the salt have orders coming out their ears.”
Grossi said some borough equipment malfunctioned on Sunday but crews were “still hanging in there.”
“Things are good for now,” Duquesne city manager Frank Piccolino said. “We have enough salt on standby here.”
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko acknowledged how brutal this winter has been as his city started taking in a 300-ton shipment on Monday, getting four loads with 85 tons before the day ended.
McKeesport has used 80-100 tons during a typical storm.
“Our bin where we stockpile can hold about 700 tons,” McKeesport public works director Steve Kondrosky said. “After (Monday) we were down to about 125. We always try to keep a reserve for a house fire or something like that.”
City crews sent a single-axle truck to Sumac and Garbett streets because of a car fire on Monday.
“Although we have used more salt this winter than we did last winter, we still have substantial salt on hand in District 11,” said Steve Cowan, spokesman for the PennDOT district covering Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties. “Additionally, we are replenishing supplies.”
Three inches fell in North Versailles Township, leaving major highways snow-covered into late morning.
“The timing ... made it more difficult than normal for our crews,” Cowan said. “When storms occur during the morning or afternoon rush hour, it proves to be more challenging to clear the roadways.”
Elizabeth has had more traffic lately with the detour off a weight-posted bridge carrying Route 51 through the borough, but in heavy snow more trucks do not bother road crews.
“In fact, the traffic helps with the salt,” Grossi said.
East Allegheny canceled classes on Monday, as did McKeesport Area and West Mifflin Area. East Allegheny school board canceled its Monday night workshop.
Crews were out in McKeesport following the usual pattern that takes them to UPMC McKeesport, then to Route 48; Walnut and Evans streets; Lysle, Eden Park and O'Neil boulevards; and Fifth Avenue.
Then the focus is on roads leading to McKeesport Area schools, with designated trucks for certain areas, such as the Seventh, Tenth and Twelfth wards, as well as smaller trucks for side streets.
“We probably have about 20 percent of the side streets that might still be snow-covered,” Kondrosky said late Monday afternoon. “We should be able to get caught up (Tuesday) on the secondary streets.”
Kondrosky said there were no complaints from Nickolich Sanitation about access to garbage collection routes.
White Oak canceled trash collection on Monday, stating on its website that crews will start early on Tuesday “and will try to get caught up as soon as possible.” The website instructed residents to put trash at the curb for their usual pickup days.
More snow is possible Tuesday night.
“Two to three inches in McKeesport,” Smerbeck predicted. “Maybe six when you hit the Allegheny County-Butler County line.”
The snow is likely from 8 p.m. until midnight. Forecasters expect it to change to sleet and freezing rain, then to a mix of flurries and drizzle at daybreak.
“We're probably preparing the same way (as for Sunday),” West Mifflin public works director James Hess said. “We expect four inches. We're doing a lot of plowing and trying to conserve the salt.”
“Salt usage will be required to address ice and freezing rain,” Downs said of the county's plans. “Depending upon temperature, liquid calcium chloride may be added to the salt to improve ice melting.”
“Depending on the pre-storm conditions, we may pre-treat the roadways,” Cowan said. “Depending on the type of storm with the possibility of icing conditions, we may mix anti-skid material with our salt.”
For county-maintained roads, there's a supply of approximately 3,600 tons of salt. Downs said the salt used Sunday and early Monday was replenished on Monday.
Where recently some communities had too much salt and extended contracts well into the next year, this winter is bringing communities to the brink of higher salt prices.
“I see the price increasing maybe 40 percent,” Piccolino said.
That would raise the price in Duquesne from $55 to about $81 a ton.
West Mifflin usually orders 7,000 tons each year.
“We managed our salt pretty well this year,” Kamauf said. “We are still at where we targeted. It is harder to come by, but we still have a contract and they have delivered when we need it.”
McKeesport gets salt through South Hills Area Council of Governments.
“We are in agreement with them for 3,000 tons,” Kondrosky said. “So far, we've received 3,600 tons.”
McKeesport pays $56-$57 a ton up to 140 percent of its contract, then subsequent stages kick in that raise the price as high as $80 a ton, Kondrosky said.
“We're going to conserve as much as we can but we are still going to do our job,” he said.
Aaron Aupperlee and Matthew Santoni of Trib Total Media contributed to this story. Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967. or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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