Crews prepared for winter storm despite salt shortages

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PITTSBURGH - Residents of the Channel 11 viewing area are being urged to prepare for the possibility of treacherous roads and travel delays as a winter storm moves into the region on Sunday.

Mayor Bill Peduto issued a statement Friday saying city Department of Public Works crews will begin working in 12-hour shifts Sunday with 50 trucks to be dispatched overnight and 65 trucks, including tractors affixed with plows, to be dispatched early Monday morning.

“We're going to have more equipment on the streets than we have ever had in the past,” said Peduto.

According to Severe Weather Team 11, the snow will be heaviest Sunday night and Monday morning.

As of Friday, the city's reserves included 2,000 tons of road salt and 1,000 tons of sand and granular limestone, mixed with liquid calcium chloride. The city will continue to receive shipments of road treatment materials after the storm arrives.

Peduto and Chief Operations Officer Guy Costa said the likelihood of a level three storm means the city will place a heavy emphasis on plowing and salting emergency and primary routes, followed by plowing of secondary streets.

“If there's a flat street, it may not be salted but it will be plowed. I mean, plowing is not an issue. We have 65 trucks plowing,” Costa said.

It could take up to 48 hours after the snowfall ends for the streets to be clear, and the fewer vehicles that travel roads Monday the faster crews can complete their work, Peduto said.

With news that snow totals could be less than originally predicted, Costa is glad to hear the forecast has changed for the better.

"We prepare for the worst, and we're glad to hear it keeps changing for the better," said Costa.

A spokesperson for the city of Pittsburgh released the following statement about response times from public works crews during the course of this winter storm:

“Plows are being mounted on all trucks. We will begin plowing as needed to prevent accumulation on Sunday night and will continue into Monday morning. Salt will be applied with special attention to intersections, hills, curves and ice-prone areas.” 

With this in mind, people are hitting area stores in search of rock salt for their homes.

“I tried Home Depot and they didn’t have any. They said 84 Lumber might, but I didn’t try down there,” Dave Moran said.

Stores are either running out or are already out of salt. However, Sarasnick’s Hardware in Bridgeville has hundreds of bags.

“Good planning and relationships with vendors, plus we’ve been in business since 1939,” owner Jason Sarasnick said.

Sarasnick said people have been calling for snowblowers, shovels and many other snow-related items.

“It’s been a long time (since I’ve seen a winter like this),” worker Dale Johnson said.

Meanwhile, in Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County, Public Works crews are actively preparing for the storm.

“All of our trucks have the plows on and we’re getting our chains on the vehicles. We’re getting them preloaded,” said Public Works Director Mike Volpe. “No (there won’t be enough salt). We’re going to have to get creative in the way we handle the storm.”

According to Volpe, Hempfield’s salt supplier, American Rock Salt, recently requested they be more understanding.

Channel 11’s Joe Holden reached out to American Rock Salt and got this recording: “While we appreciate the inquiries, our focus must remain on our mining operations, so we’re unable to respond to requests for interviews.”

Hempfield Township lawyers are now enforcing part of the contract with American Rock Salt that allows them to penalize the company because of late salt shipments.

Residents are urged to check http://pittsburghpa.gov/ during and after the storm for updates.

New Castle recently received a shipment of salt, but the public works director said they only have enough to get them through the weekend.

South Strabane Township will also be able to make it through the weekend, despite a salt shortage. The township expects to receive another salt shipment after the storm.

Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.