Officials seek emergency funding for Route 30 landslide in East Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania is close to granting a disaster declaration for Allegheny County, which would unlock state funds to repair public property destroyed by landslides since February, including one that collapsed a section of Route 30 Saturday in East Pittsburgh.
It would be the first time the state has issued a disaster declaration to the county for landslides, as far as county officials are aware, said Amie Downs, county spokeswoman.
County officials are finalizing a list of costs for damage resulting from the slides since mid-February — a figure that will be in the tens of millions of dollars, said Matt Brown, the county's chief of emergency services.
The first landslide to be counted occurred Feb. 15 along Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill, Downs said.
If the state disaster declaration is issued, it will unlock state funding to help repair Route 30 and other roads impacted by slides, as well as emergency management and clean up, Downs said.
It's not clear how much money that would be, though.
“The state has very limited opportunities for doing that kind of thing and very limited funds,” Gov. Tom Wolf told reporters after touring the damage to the roadway and the properties along Electric Avenue in East Pittsburgh.
The county also is nearing the higher threshold for a federal state of emergency, which would qualify it to receive federal funds, Downs said.
“We're going to go ahead and continue gathering those costs, and if we make a determination that we're going to meet those thresholds, the governor will send a letter to the president,” said Richard Flinn, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
A state disaster declaration for individual assistance would provide state money for the private property lost — including two apartment buildings and a house on Electric Avenue — but the county is not near that threshold, Downs said.
Thirty-one people were forced to leave their apartments because of the slide, as well as a family living in a house on a hill, officials have said. They are staying with relatives and in hotels paid for by PennDOT. Some of them will likely be able to return to their apartments. Residents of the two buildings that have been demolished, and the house that will be demolished, will be seeking new homes.
“The fact that people had to go through this is tragic,” Wolf said.
Timeline for repairs
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards said it will take a minimum of two to three months for crews to repair Route 30.
“You're looking at a major construction project,” Wolf said. “They don't happen overnight. We've got to do it right, and we're going to do it right.”
Officials will be working the next few days to confirm the cause of the slide, Richards said.
One contributing factor was the large amount of rain the county has received in recent months — almost 10 inches from Feb. 14 to April 4, Brown said.
PennDOT crews are drilling four additional boring holes, said Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, PennDOT District 11 executive.
“As soon as those additional borings are made, they can finalize the design,” Moon-Sirianni said. “We're hoping within a few weeks to at least have a contractor on board gearing up, getting ready to start construction on repairs.”
There are about 70 active slides in PennDOT District 11, which includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, Moon-Sirianni has said.
Officials will explore whether they can prevent landslides, Wolf said.
“You can't control Mother Nature, but there are some things maybe you can do to better prepare for it in the future. We'll try to do that,” Wolf said.