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Landslides Could Delay Some PennDOT Projects

Gov. Tom Wolf
PennDOT is expected to begin a number of new roadway projects this year.


On today's program: PennDOT previews a full year of construction on Western PA roadways; aging infrastructure is putting river communities at risk of increased flooding; what it means to be "radically" body positive; a fond farewell to City Councilor Darlene Harris; and a local professor updates our understanding of Mars' topography.

What to look out for on PennDOT roads in 2020
(00:00 — 12:28) 

A near-record series of spring and summer rainstorms helped 2019 cap the wettest decade in Pittsburgh history, and state Department of Transportation District 11 executive Cheryl Moon-Sirianni says the region’s backlog of landslide remediation projects bring that milestone to bear. 

The department spent about $20 million fixing roadways and restoring hillsides in 2019, she says, largely by diverting funds from other projects, and they expect to do the same in 2020. Pennsylvania budgets $6 million a year for landslides.

“We’re still dealing with some [landslides] from 2016,” Moon-Sirianni says. “We really have a lot of paving we could do in the next two years, and some of that’s going to be delayed to 2023 and 2024.”

PennDOT is also planning ahead for construction season when the winter weather begins to clear. That includes some carryover projects from 2019 like the I-579 Cap, which involves building a structure over the interstate to link the Hill District with Downtown.

Projects beginning this year include: 

  • Steel repair work and painting on the Neville Island Bridge, expected to conclude in 2022.
  • Route 28 at the Highland Park Interchange, which means nighttime and weekend restrictures and some long-term closures of the bridge ramps for reconstruction. That work is set to be finished in 2022.
  • Major safety improvements to East Carson Street between the Smithfield Street Bridge to 33rd Street, which Moon-Sirianni called “the No. 1 crash corridor in our region.”

Flooding risks put river communities on high alert
(13:49 — 17:49) 

Floodwalls, earthen levees and pump stations in the Ohio River basin protect more than $120 billion in property and more than 700,000 people from rising waters, but is this infrastructure up to the task?

The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple reports that with some flood protection systems deteriorating and climate change increasing the severity and frequency of flooding, Ohio Valley communities could be at risk

Outgoing councilor Darlene Harris looks back
(17:49 — 22:24) 

Long-time North Side representative Darlene Harris has left City Council, but as 90.5 WESA's Ariel Worthy reports, her legacy for animal welfare will live on. 

Her public service career spanned over more than 40 years, first as an advocate for her Spring Hill neighborhood, then as a board member on Pittsburgh Public Schools. On City Council, Harris often opposed Mayor Bill Peduto, was defeated in last spring's Democratic primary by Bobby Wilson. She says she plans to spend more time with her five grandchildren.

How massage can contribute to self acceptance and love
(22:27 — 27:04) 

It’s been one year since Body Euphoria inclusive massage therapy opened in upper Lawrenceville. The business is run by Eli Shumaker, a massage therapist who says he wanted to create a positive experience for his clients, especially those who identify as LGBT. 

90.5 WESA’s Katie Blackley talks to Shumaker about his original concept for the space.

“The underlying principle is all bodies are good bodies,” Shumaker says. “We strive to be very radically body positive here.”

Credit Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Atlas to Mars was released in 2019. Co-author Ken Coles is one of three scientists who updated the tome first released by NASA in the 1970s.

  A new atlas gives Earthlings a better picture of Mars
(27:06 — 39:19) 

NASA is set to launch its next rover to the surface of Mars in July, building on information gathered by its predecessors.

Ken Coles, a geoscientist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was part of a team that published an Atlas of Mars, which updates the last atlas published by NASA in the 1970s. 

The atlas contains the latest information and knowledge about the Red Planet, with a special focus on geology and how the environment has changed. Other authors include Kenneth Tanaka of the U.S. Geological Survey’s astrogeology team and Philip Christensen from Arizona State University. 

90.5 WESA’s Julia Zenkevich, Caldwell Holden and Caroline Bourque contributed to this program. Photo credit: Tom Wolf / Flickr

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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