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While you sleep, road crews get ready for the morning crunch

| Thursday, June 3, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

It's 4 a.m. Sleepy workers, still hours from heading into their Downtown offices, snuggle in bed, most of them not even close to tapping their snooze button for the first time that morning.

The commuters -- about 273,000 according to the latest U.S. Census -- may still be snoring, but hundreds of people are working to make sure they wake up to well-oiled commutes and clean city streets.

Morning commutes would be tougher if PennDOT employees Andy Murphy and Bob Bossio didn't get up early to open gates for the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes running between the city and the North Hills.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Publics Works crews keep the streets clean.

Night shift and early-rising workers get the grime off trash cans and patch streets starting at 11 p.m., foreman Omar Pack said. Two to six drivers, depending on the night, maneuver water-spraying flusher trucks. Street cleaners follow them.

Driver Mallory Craig offers a little-known fact: These truck-mounted babies will go 60 mph.

"But I probably go about 5 mph," Craig said, "We get no respect. Everyone wants to get around us," he joked.

Port Authority buses also get cleaned. The buses are "run through the washing rack" nightly, where they are cleared of trash and wiped down inside, washed outside and gassed for the dawn's early runs.

Through the night, Port Authority mechanics see to it that transmissions are replaced, fare boxes are repaired and other defects are corrected.

For people who drive to work, High Occupancy Vehicle gates are opened by 6 a.m. officially, "but we try to get things up and running by a quarter to 6," Murphy said.

When they are done, Murphy and Bossio rove up and down the region's parkways watching for drivers in distress. At 9 a.m., the duo closes the road until another team re-opens lanes for outbound traffic in the afternoon.

These overnight workers said their jobs are generally thankless. Still, nighttime operations fit these workers just fine.

"Take a look at that view of the city," Murphy said as he gestured to a lighted cityscape seconds before the sky turned from a periwinkle to brilliant reddish orange colors of sunrise.

"Set everything else aside, and tell me where else you get to see a view like this?" he said.

From the workers

"I stand here and stop cars from going the wrong way on to the HOV lanes. If you look over here, you'll see signs bigger than my house saying 'do not enter.' You know what• They still do."

-- Jim Maitland, security guard stationed at the High Occupancy Vehicle lane stadium entrance on absent-minded drivers.

"Every day I come in to work it's a different experience. I meet some really nice people some days. Other times, people are having car trouble or a (car) accident, so they're having a bad day. Guess what• (I'm) going to be the first one to get it and get it good. But it's OK. I know how I'd feel."

-- Bob Bossio, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation tow truck operator, talking about rescuing stranded drivers. Additional Information:

Details

  • About 191 workers de-gum seats and de-slime handrails of Port Authority buses through the night, every night. All working buses are loaded into 'the washing rack,' a car wash unit where workers clean the interior and give the exterior a scrub-down.

  • Each PennDOT tow truck drivers handle as many as 15 breakdowns a day. Trucks are stocked with two gallons of gasoline, two gallons of antifreeze, two gallons of diesel fuel, road flares, tire changing tools and oil-absorbing materials. The tow operators rescue drivers courtesy of PennDOT.

  • Every trash can in the city is steam-cleaned once a week by night-shifters from Pittsburgh's Department of Public Works.

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