City Department of Public Works Says It's Ready for Snow

Jan 5, 2015

There hasn’t been much snowfall in Pittsburgh so far this season – just a little less than 4 inches, according to the National Weather Service – but that hasn’t stopped the Department of Public Works from stockpiling rock salt and updating its plows.

“Winter up to this point really hasn’t been one,” Mike Gable, public works director, said. “We’ve only had a few, basically, icy events and haven’t had to use a lot of salt, but all our domes are filled to capacity. We’ve not had any trouble at all with delivery from the vendors.”

The city has about 25,000 tons of salt stored throughout the area and has used about 4,000 tons so far. On average, the city goes through about 40,000 tons of salt each season, but last year, subzero temperatures caused Pittsburgh to dump as much as 65,000 tons on city streets.

“Our biggest obstacle last year wasn’t the fact that we didn’t have the equipment,” Gable said, “we just didn’t have the material and that’s because the vendors couldn’t get us the orders we had in. So, I think we’ve made strides in that way to make sure that the materials are going to get to us.”

Last season’s polar vortex froze rivers and rail lines, which delayed salt shipments and caused the city to purchase hundreds of tons of salt from the state instead of its supplier, American Rock Salt. To make sure shortages don’t happen again, Gable said the city and supplier have a new agreement that requires the supplier to make deliveries after hours and on the weekends.

Gable also said the city has added more salt storage facilities and emergency reserves.

“We have more remote locations for salt,” he said. “And, in addition, we also worked out an arrangement with the county where we’re actually both storing salt in one of the domes (to be used) only in the event of an emergency.”

Last year, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto called for an update of the city’s snow removal systems, including the adoption of GPS trackers at about $45 per plow and the installation of RouteSmart Systems at a cost of $100 per truck. Now, public works is ready to put the system to the test, but there hasn’t been enough snow to see if it has any impact on efficiency.

“We want to go through a snow event to work out the little glitches before we let the public get on and take a look at it just like what we’re looking at,” Gable said. “They can be able to click on a vehicle and see if that vehicle went down that street at a certain time.”

At the peak of the season, Gable said as many as 70 snow plows can be out clearing the street day and night.

During instances of heavy snow fall, Gable said public works will post weather advisories on its website with estimated snow removal times. If a street has not been cleared within that timeframe, residents are encouraged to call Pittsburgh’s 3-1-1 Response Center to report it.

More than 63 inches of snow fell in the Pittsburgh region last year.