Snow, ice cause wrecks, gridlock across Western Pennsylvania
By Margaret Harding and Adam Brandolph
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 10:58 a.m.
The first significant snowstorm of the season brought gridlock, wrecks and frustration to Western Pennsylvania roads on Wednesday as businesses closed and crews scrambled to clear ice.
“It's very difficult for trucks to do their jobs thoroughly when you have eight, nine, 10 cars stopped all over the roadway,” said Ross police Sgt. Benjamin Dripps, whose department shut down sections of busy McKnight Road throughout the day and responded to 15 to 20 crashes. “They can't go anywhere, and the trucks can't do their jobs properly.”
The storm dropped about 4.4 inches of snow in Pittsburgh after moving up from the South, where it wreaked havoc on Christmas and prompted a winter storm warning from the National Weather Service for most of Western Pennsylvania. Another inch was possible overnight.
Pittsburgh road crews prepared the night before, officials said, but some primary roads appeared untouched before the afternoon rush — hours after snow started falling.
Dan North, 23, who works in the South Side, said crews plowed East Carson Street, but the roadway remained troublesome in the afternoon.
“The street doesn't look that well-taken care of, but the side streets look a lot worse than Carson,” said North, a graphic design artist with Minuteman Press.
Leaders in Pittsburgh and elsewhere asked for patience.
“The bottom line is this snowfall is affecting the entire region,” city mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven said. “Public Works crews are manned up, working overtime and doing the best they can to clear the roads.
“The public needs to remain patient, stay at home and give ... crews a chance to clear their streets,” Doven said.
“The way the storm came through … we couldn't keep up with it,” said Monroeville Public Works Director Mike Adams.
Meteorologists expect scattered snow showers, with little to no accumulation, and a high of 32 degrees on Thursday.
Heavy snowfall in a short period between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday made clearing it tough, officials said.
By 8 p.m., crews had cleared snow from about 90 percent of Pittsburgh's secondary roads and were making a second pass along primary roads, Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski said. The department had a full staff manning 60 pieces of equipment, he noted.
Councilman Bill Peduto, a candidate for mayor, said he saw cleared roads in Shadyside, Bloomfield and Oakland but problems about 3:30 p.m. in Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze.
“They haven't been touched,” Peduto said. “I'm on the roads; it's very obvious.”
Peduto said emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter from residents asking about plow progress prompted him to check out streets in his district.
“I think one division has been able to hit all the primary routes while another division is struggling to get to primary streets,” Peduto said. “Whatever it is, it needs to be recognized first and accepted, and then evaluated, and you change what you can.”
Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who represents the city's West End, said she received “almost nothing” in complaints from residents.
“If they have questions about the delivery of services, they should question that at the end of the crisis, not in the middle of the crisis,” Kail-Smith said.
The forecast of 3 to 6 inches of snow sent some commuters to Port Authority of Allegheny County, which reported 30-minute delays on buses but few problems on the light-rail system.
“People are making a big deal about this because it's the first snow of the season, but we live in Pittsburgh, and it's December. Of course it's gonna snow,” said Duane Cunningham, 44, who took the T into Downtown for a dental appointment because he did not want to lose his freshly shoveled parking spot outside his Beechview home.
Some complained that Port Authority had not shoveled steep stairways they used to get to stops.
“I would have worn hiking boots if I knew I was going to be climbing up and down a mountain in the snow,” said Sondra Evesham, 71, of Mt. Lebanon.
The weather prompted closure of courthouses, libraries, parks, museums and restaurants. Airlines canceled 80 arriving and departing flights at Pittsburgh International Airport through 2:45 p.m., seventh-most among U.S. airports, according to the flight-tracking website FlightStats.com.
Chris Manning, a booking agent at Holiday Inn Express on Campbells Run Road in Robinson, said the hotel had more guests because of flight delays and cancellations. He said shuttle bus drivers transporting guests from the airport to the hotel reported poor road conditions.
PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said crews pretreated major roadways with a brine solution, but the pace at which the snow fell and disabled vehicles made it difficult to clear roads.
“Within a 10-minute span it went from nothing to freezing rain to heavy snow, so we're working with changing weather conditions,” Cowan said.
PennDOT employees on 65 county plow trucks and 15 rental trucks worked 12-hour shifts in Allegheny County, Cowan said.
The weather did not keep shoppers from snagging after-Christmas deals or returning gifts at Westmoreland Mall.
“We still have a pretty good group of shoppers out there,” said mall manager Mike Egan. “I have to assume some people stayed home, but we've got a lot of people here today.”
Margaret Harding and Adam Brandolph are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Staff writers Chuck Biedka, Bob Bauder, Bill Vidonic, Kyle Lawson, Laura Van Wert, Stephanie Hacke, Tom Fontaine, Jeffrey Widmer, Tory N. Parrish, Patrick Varine, John Grupp and Jennifer Reeger contributed to this report.
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