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Pittsburgh officials say despite old plows, they're ready for the next round of snow

Carolyn Kaster

Pittsburgh officials say they’re prepared for a potential snowstorm this weekend, but note the city needs to make big investments in snow clearing equipment and operations.

Current forecasts from city officials project a snowfall of around 8 to 10 inches starting late Sunday afternoon and continuing through Monday morning. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for the area on Friday morning.

“We are working to undo years of disinvestment,” Mayor Ed Gainey said at a press conference on Friday.

During the first significant snowfall of the season in early January, city officials received reports of unplowed and unsalted streets in some neighborhoods. Chris Hornstein, the acting director of public works, said part of the issue was refreeze.

“We didn’t anticipate temperatures to drop as low as they did,” he said.

The age and condition of the city’s snowplows also complicated the response. The average age of the snowplow fleet is 11 years old — about double what Hornstein said it should be.

“What this causes for us is concerns. Trucks frequently go down for maintenance issues during a snow event. This takes that truck and that driver off the road,” he said. “If we were properly aged, I would expect a significant increase in our ability to respond to the event.”

“We’re not where we want to be, but we will get there,” said Gainey, though he didn’t want to “place blame” for the situation.

Hornstein said Pittsburgh has 20,000 tons of salt and more than 80 snowplows ready to go out this weekend.

Crews will begin salting the roads around 2 p.m. on Sunday, focusing on primary and emergency routes near hospitals and other emergency services. Between 40 and 70 snowplow drivers will be on the road for each shift, and an additional 80 people will hand clear steps, sidewalks and bridges.

Public Works made changes in response to the last snowfall, including allowing drivers to carry and distribute more salt as needed, mandating overtime and identifying trucks that didn’t show up on the city’splow tracker.

The Allegheny County Department of Public works plans to deploy 30 salt trucks on Sunday to clear county roads.

Gainey said drivers should consider taking less hilly routes during icy conditions when possible and drive slowly.

Residents can find a list of the city’s winter weather resourceshere.

Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at