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PennDOT Hopes To Resume Long-Delayed Work When PA Reopens In May

Gov. Tom Wolf


On today's program: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation faces construction setbacks due to pandemic; one expert imagines what it will mean to reopen the state; local restaurants face uncertain futures; and poets maintain community during difficult times. 

PennDOT works around construction setbacks
(00:00 — 4:53) 

PennDOT officials are hoping to kick off a delayed start to construction season in early May with paving on projects on Route 51 outside the Fort Pitt Tunnel and both ends of Carson Street on the South Side.

District 11 executive Cheryl Moon-Siriani, who oversees roadwork in Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, says it’s been nearly six weeks since crews were able to do much beyond landslide repairs and emergency maintenance.

"We're really changing how we're doing business, both from a construction and inspection standpoint," she says. "Obviously the masks are having to be worn, cleaning stations are put in place. There's specific requirements on who's operating what equipment and how it has to be cleaned in between." 

All PennDOT projects now require a COVID-19 safety plan, and she says crews are social distancing as much as possible. 

The department could be in line for Phase 4 of the federal stimulus package, which Moon-Siriani says would help offset massive drops in revenue derived from liquid fuel sales.

"What you may see not occur are some slide projects on lower volume roads. Some paving projects that we can't afford might be pushed back a year. Any critical safety concerns will continue to be addressed, though."

She says they’ll never make up the lost time. However, with so many spring, summer and even fall events now canceled across the region, PennDOT will have wider windows to work evenings and weekends when fewer people will be traveling.

Imagining life after PA reopens
(4:54 — 8:43) 

The number of COVID-19 cases in the Pittsburgh area will rise once the state begins to reopen next month, says Johns Hopkins infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, but local hospital systems can reasonably treat the people who become infected.

Social distancing will keep it at bay, but any relaxation of those measures will make the disease less manageable, he says. "It's not going to magically disappear," he says, but cases are low enough now that it's appropriate to consider what comes next.

"It's too soon to go back to what it was in December, but I do think it is time to think about how to (reopen) safely and taking some actions to try to get things back to normal," Adalja says. "Obviously things like mass gatherings are still going to be very difficult to have because of the sheer numbers of people and the opportunities the virus can have, but thinking about how to allow more businesses to open, lifting stay-at-home orders, thinking about what other types of activities can be done. Maybe you have to modify things... but I think we're in that phase now."

Local restaurants face uncertain future
(8:45 — 13:36) 

This week, the coronavirus pandemic claimed an iconic Pittsburgh restaurant, with the apparent permanent closure of Essie’s Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland, known as “the O.” 

But while most local restaurants have survived so far, 90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll reports that they face an uncertain future

Pennsylvania poets create community amid pandemic
(13:40 — 18:02) 

April is National Poetry Month—a time of year when poetry enthusiasts come together to celebrate the craft. But that can be tricky in times of social distancing, says poet and Keystone Crossroads reporter Sojourner Ahebee.  

Ahebee spoke to poets across Pennsylvania about trying to foster community during a pandemic and holding on to the magic of poetry through uncertainty and fear. 

90.5 WESA’s Julia Zenkevich contributed to this report. 

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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