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PennDOT lends 6,000 tons of salt to municipalities in need

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 11:07 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A truck sits ready with a bed full of salt in front of a salt pile at the parking lot for the City of Pittsburgh Public Works in the Strip District on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Chief Operations Officer Guy Costa looks on as Mike Gable, acting director of Pittsburgh Public Works, answers questions about the department's preparedness for a storm forecast for Tuesday, Feb, 4, 2014.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Supplies are low on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in a Pittsburgh Public Works salt dome on Route 51 near Woodruff Street.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Supplies are low on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in a Pittsburgh Public Works salt dome on Route 51 near Woodruff Street.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Supplies are low on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in a Pittsburgh Public Works salt dome on Route 51 near Woodruff Street.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mike Gable, acting director of Pittsburgh Public Works listens as Chief Operations Officer Guy Costa answers questions about the city's preparedness for a storm forecast for Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mike Gable is the director of the city's Public Works department.

PennDOT said Tuesday it lent more than 6,000 tons of road salt to other government agencies that have seen harsh winter conditions deplete their stockpiles.

Salt borrowers included Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh International Airport and seven other municipalities across the state.

Mother Nature isn't letting up. Another round of snow and ice is expected to hit the region Wednesday.

“We are never going to sacrifice safety on the roadway. We do what we need to do to keep people moving,” said PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt. “They do need to give that salt back to us once they get their deliveries.”

The region is under a winter storm warning until 1 p.m. Wednesday. Up to 3 inches of snow was expected overnight, changing to rain by morning. More snow is possible Wednesday night, said Brad Rehak, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Moon.

Pittsburgh received a 500-ton salt loan from PennDOT in January, said Guy Costa, the city's chief operations officer. The city later repaid the loan and, as of Tuesday, it had about 4,000 tons of salt in reserve. It uses about 1,000 tons for every inch of snow that falls. Salt costs about $55 per ton.

New Public Works Director Mike Gable said the city bases its annual salt budget of about $2 million on National Weather Service snowfall predictions. It predicted 44 12 inches of snow for 2013-14. About 42 12 inches of snow has fallen so far this winter.

Salt vendors have struggled to meet demand, Costa said.

“I know one day we ordered 2,500 tons and 500 tons were delivered,” he said.

Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said the airport borrowed salt to treat ramps, roads and lots around the airport. Salt isn't used on runways.

PennDOT has about 382,000 tons of salt stockpiled. The agency goes through about 800,000 tons in an average year, but had plowed through 685,000 tons as of Jan. 27.

“It's not the supply that's the problem. The real problem is the distribution,” said Morton Satin, vice president of science and research at the Salt Institute in Alexandria, Va. “It's a combination of everyone wants it now and it's the hardest time of the year to get it because of the weather. ... Now we're in a situation where the pipeline is backed up.”

New Castle Public Works Director Michael Rooney said he's waiting for 800 tons that he ordered two weeks ago. Typically, orders arrive in a week or less.

“With this storm we're getting, we just have to conserve,” said Rooney, whose department received a 120-ton loan from PennDOT last month.

The cold weather prompted Pennsylvania American Water to warn customers about frozen pipes.

Spokesman Gary Lobaugh said reports of frozen water pipes and main lines surged 250 percent between Jan. 1 and Feb. 3, compared with the same period a year ago. Lobaugh urged people to take simple precautions, such as allowing water to trickle through pipes continuously and opening cabinet doors to allow warm air to get to pipes.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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