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Downed power lines keep Route 228 closed

| Thursday, June 26, 2014, 6:55 a.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Penn Power crews clean-up storm damage along Route 228 at the I-79 interchange in Cranberry, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. A microburst swept through the area around 7 p.m. the night before toppling nine utility poles in a row. The wooden poles, with the tallest being 75-feet high, were installed within the past couple of months. 'We're gathering what we need to make repairs,' said Penn Power spokesman Chris Eck. 'As you can see, it's a big mess and is going to take a while to clean-up.' There is no timetable on re-opening any of the road which remains closed from Route 19 to Cranberry Woods Drive.

PennDOT intends to take “a hard look” at why a row of nine utility poles and several light poles snapped along Route 228 in Cranberry during storms, sending wires, wood and metal crashing onto the heavily traveled road and causing traffic jams expected to stretch into Thursday, an agency official said.

“I was dumbfounded when I was told the wind knocked these down,” said Bob Skrak, PennDOT's maintenance manager in Butler County. “I'm certain that we'll take a hard look at this, why it failed and what failed.”

Some poles had been standing only a few months, having been erected as part of Route 228 upgrades at the Interstate 79 interchange.

“You can't make your infrastructure weatherproof,” said Penn Power spokesman Chris Eck, who blamed the collapse on an act of nature, not a design flaw. “Mother Nature can always brew up something stronger than you can prepare for.”

Route 228 between Route 19 and the Westinghouse complex was expected to remain closed at least until mid-day on Thursday, said Cranberry spokesman Peter Longini.

An 85 mph downburst, at the top range for the weakest tornadoes, hit about 7 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Moon. The same storm caused damage in Crescent, the weather service said.

Nine wooden utility poles owned by Penn Power and several metal streetlight poles owned by PennDOT toppled and snapped off at their bases. The damage was similar to what utility crews find after hurricanes, Penn Power crews said.

The affected section, which spans Interstate 79, gets stronger winds than other portions of Route 228, Cranberry Manager Jerry Andree said. Township crews recently had to stabilize one pole that holds traffic signals at the Interstate 79 interchange because wind was making the pole bounce, Andree said. The pole withstood Tuesday's storm.

The township doesn't own any of the poles that fell, Andree said.

“I have confidence in Penn Power, that if there was something wrong, they'll identify that,” Andree said.

Crews didn't know which pole failed first, but Eck said they suspect heavy electric, cable and phone service wires felled the metal poles.

PennDOT estimates 40,000 motorists travel that stretch each weekday.

No motorists were injured, though wires landed on two vehicles, said Cranberry police Sgt. Chuck Mascellino.

“There were probably several close calls,” Mascellino said.

PennDOT and Penn Power said the poles are designed to snap when hit by a vehicle to lessen the effects of impact.

PennDOT is expected to finish a project to add ramps and widen part of Freedom Road at the interchange in the fall.

Crews from Ohio Edison, Penn Power, Consolidated Communications and other utilities worked to clean, repair damage, erect new utility poles and string utility lines.

Township officials alerted motorists through social media about closures and delays. Motorists used routes 8 and 910 as detours. Police reported heavy delays on Route 19 and other roads, including Franklin Road into Allegheny County and Interstate 79.

Lyndsey Golla, 19, of Mars said a trip between McDonald's restaurants on Route 228 and Route 19 in Marshall and on Franklin and Freeport roads that normally takes a few minutes took between 20 and 25 minutes. Golla is a manager for the restaurant chain.

“It wasn't too bad, but if you were headed for work or an appointment, it could be extremely frustrating,” Golla said.

Police coordinated their response by blocking roads leading to Route 228. Electronic signs advised motorists to take alternate routes.

Westinghouse officials said attendance seemed to be normal on Wednesday. Nearby businesses along Route 228 were open. Penn Power rerouted the power grid to prevent outages. Some businesses, including Noodles & Company and La-Z-Boy, both in Cranberry Crossroads along Route 228, reported slower business than usual.

“If this had been a Friday or Saturday, it would have been rough,” said Louis Constant, a sales manager at La-Z-Boy.

Flooding caused PennDOT to close Route 38 between the Route 68 ramp in Summit and West Sunbury Road in Oakland.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or

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