EAST PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was planning to do work on Route 30 just days before it collapsed last April.
In the days leading up to the Route 30 collapse, PennDOT told us it was a road that needed repairs, but that it was not a dire situation. That all changed on a Saturday in April, when the East Pittsburgh road came crashing down onto apartments below it.
Now, 11 Investigates is getting a better idea of what PennDOT knew in the time leading up to the collapse. We filed a right to know request, and got a hold of the email conversations in the days and hours before that.
The Route 30 collapse forced 21 people to be evacuated from their homes. It destroyed two apartment buildings and a home. PennDOT evacuated the apartments directly under the hillside, and then East Pittsburgh police decided just before the collapse to evacuate the rest.
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The emails show just one week before the slide, PennDOT officials discussed closing one lane of the road in both directions to make repairs to Route 30. That closure was planned for the weekend of April 13-15. The road collapsed on April 7.
Later on in the week, the emails took a different tone. A PennDOT engineer sent out an email that read in part, "I'm sure you are aware of the recent landslide on State Route 30 in East Pittsburgh." It went on to say, "Can you please pass this on the whomever as soon as possible being that this is an emergency situation. We need this taken care of as quickly as possible."
Less than a full day later, the road was gone. We spoke to PennDOT District 11 Executive Cheryl Moon-Sirianni about those days leading up to the collapse.
"We honestly never expected anything of this magnitude," Moon-Sirianni said.
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She told us crews were on-scene examining road issues, but no signs of a landslide popped up until hours before it happened.
"The wall at the bottom, which had shown no signs of movement up until that point, did begin to move a little bit," Moon-Sirianni told 11 Investigates. "As soon as they noticed that happening is when they evacuated all of the folks from the buildings next to that landslide."
The people living in those now-destroyed apartments are still in hotels, wondering if they can return home or looking for somewhere new to live. PennDOT hopes to have them back in their homes by next month. We asked PennDOT if there was anything they would change looking back.
Internal emails show PennDOT was preparing to do road work on Route 30 just days before it collapsed. What was being discussed in the days and hours before the landslide ONLY on #WPXI at 5:45https://t.co/qGeYhgUr0x— Aaron Martin (@WPXIAaronMartin) July 11, 2018
"We had some of the best engineers in the region and state out here and we did not notice any of those signs," Moon-Sirianni said. "If I could change anything, I would have liked to have those people removed from the apartment buildings with their belongings ahead of time."
Drivers are relieved to have the road back open to traffic now.
As for the emails, we only got access to part of them. PennDOT rejected our request for more thorough records, citing the emails reflect internal and predecisional deliberations regarding the best course of action. That's exempt in Pennsylvania.
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