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East Pittsburgh Tenants, Commuters Adjusting To Life After Landslide

A landslide in East Pittsburgh on April 7 destroyed a portion of Route 30 and displaced some residents. Three weeks later, the borough is picking up the pieces.

It's been nearly three weeks since a devastating landslide collapsed part of Route 30 and displaced apartment tenants in East Pittsburgh. 

Mayor Louis Payne said the borough is bouncing back, despite continued challenges to commuters and more than 30 apartment residents.

Officials are still searching for housing to relocate nine tenants of an apartment building on Electric Avenue that was demolished due to the April 7 landslide. The complex's landlord, Brandywine Agency, will try to move the residents to some of its other properties, according to Payne.

"There's one coming open on Electric Avenue soon, and there are some others across the street," he said.

Payne predicted the process could take two to three more weeks. He said that the state is looking to compensate the landlord and tenants of destroyed apartments based on square footage, occupancy, and the values of personal belongings. "They will be made whole," Payne noted. 

"There are very specific processes that must be followed concerning the displaced tenants and property owners (including the apartment owners)," PennDOT spokesperson Steve Cowan wrote via email. "PennDOT is working through those processes to determine what compensation will be provided to those property owners and tenants."

Credit Keith Srakocic / AP
Crews will construct a retaining wall to prevent further slides, which is estimated to be complete this summer.

Tenants in the five other Electric Avenue buildings have to wait much longer. Payne said it won't be safe to return the residents to their intact apartments until PennDOT completes construction of a retaining wall behind the units this summer. 

"It's all being taken care of. They have food there, they're comfortable, and so forth, so everything's okay," Payne insisted.

City and state authorities are providing lodging to the residents at a nearby hotel. East Pittsburgh Police Chief Lori Fruncek is delivering mail to the residents, and first responders gave them an opportunity to collect bags and boxes of personal belongings from their apartments. Officials are also aiding in transportation and food for the mostly elderly residents, confirmed Cowan by phone.

"Allegheny County is taking the lead on that," Cowan said. 

Payne noted that traffic through East Pittsburgh has eased during the continued closure of Route 30. After the landslide decimated nearly 300 yards of highway, local and state officials devised a series of detours that jammed up morning and evening commutes for a few days.

Now, Payne said residents have adjusted to their new commutes. Heavy traffic on detour routes, however, has burdened some roads unequipped to handle heavier-than-usual travel. Officials are working to ensure road quality is maintained as quickly as possible, explained Payne. 

"During the last two weekends, we had two intersections where PennDOT had to do some work worrying maybe the road was in bad shape with all the added traffic," he said. "That made it a little bit rough during rush times, but other than that, traffic has been a lot better than before."

Cowan said that Route 30 repairs cannot begin until the retaining wall is constructed, so commuters can anticipate that the strip of highway will remained closed well after the wall's projected completion time of mid-summer. 

The wall will be approximately 400 feet long and 20 feet tall, according to PennDOT officials. Cowan estimated that crews will haul off 650 truckloads of dirt from the site in what Payne called a "24/7" construction effort. Payne predicted that the project could cost upwards of $12 million in repair, construction, and apartment compensation costs. 

"The construction cost of the wall is $6.5 million but the associated costs have yet to be determined," Cowan wrote.

The region has dealt with a record year for landslides and is already five times over budget for landslide remediation, according to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto

East Pittsburgh residents can expect one-lane road closures on Electric Avenue as construction crews haul equipment and materials in and out of the property.

Adelina Lancianese is the assistant producer for the NPR Story Lab, a creative studio that fosters newsroom experimentation and incubates new podcasts. At the Story Lab, Lancianese works primarily on investigative, long-form projects, and also helps organize the annual Story Lab Workshop for the development of new independent and Member station podcasts.