City of Pittsburgh working to fix troubling issues with snow removal system

PITTSBURGH — For the past two years, Target 11 has been tracking problems with Pittsburgh’s snow removal system, and this winter there have been more troubling issues. Investigator Rick Earle first exposed some of these problems in 2018 and he’s taking these new concerns to city leaders.

City salt truck drivers tell Target 11 that they continue to have problems with that automated salt spreader system that was installed two years ago to cut down on salt usage and ultimately save money.

Drivers said the electronic regulator is still not dropping enough salt.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Anthony Coghill found out about the issues the hard way during the Christmas Day snowstorm.

“It started with emails and then phone calls and you name it, all kinds of people screaming at my doors. It was a rough day, and rightfully so. I mean, that people couldn’t get off their hill. They couldn’t go to work. You know, the roads weren’t treated like we want them to be,” said Coghill.

Coghill then discovered what Target 11 first reported in late 2018. The number one complaint from salt truck drivers, Coghill said, was that the automated system doesn’t allow them to drop enough salt, especially in areas of the city with steep terrain, like the South Hills.

“With so many hills in the south, you know as steep as they are, and a lot of that has to do with Mother Nature … you know, the way that rained and then froze and then snowed on top of it. It was tough to control when it required more salt,” said Coghill, a democrat from the South Hills.

Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff acknowledged the challenges of implementing a new system.

“There is no doubt there has been frustration on the part of drivers, and I can assure you on part of the mayor, that it hasn’t worked the way the contractor promised and we are working these things out,” Dan Gilman said.

Another big complaint that Target 11 exposed was when city salt truck drivers slow down or stop, the spreader stops and it doesn’t engage again until the truck reaches a certain speed, leaving intersections and other stretches of roadway untreated.

Gilman said the city has made some changes to work out these kinks. Drivers can now override the system and put it in manual, allowing them to drop more salt.

But for all the problems with the $1.4 million system, Gilman maintains that it’s better and more efficient than the old way.

“A lot of trucks were dropping too quickly. They could never finish the route they were on, and they spent so much time driving back to get more salt and then putting down too much,” Gilman said.

Target 11 also uncovered some new issues. Drivers said they still don’t have that electronic GPS screen inside the trucks to show them their designated routes.

Drivers said they’re still using paper, and that led to some missed streets on Christmas Day when the city had trouble getting enough workers to come in and was forced to use workers that don’t normally drive snow routes.

Gilman said those screens should be installed sometime this year.

Because of the struggle to get workers in during the Christmas holiday, the city has implemented a text notification system to alert drivers that they’re needed. And if enough drivers don’t respond, the city can now call in private contractors.

“I think there were some major problems that we recognize, and I think we’ll be a lot more ready for the next snow,” Coghill said.

Some of the changes appear to be having an impact. City leaders tell Earle they had far fewer complaints about the roads after the snowfall earlier this month.