PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Monday addressed the failure of electronic warning gates that didn’t keep motorists off a flooded road where four people died in flash floods in the same area five years ago.
Washington Boulevard flooded after more than two inches of rain fell quickly Sunday evening.
“There was one vehicle with three individuals in it; however, those three individuals were successfully extracted on verbal commands from the police officers and first responders,” said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich.
Fifteen minutes later, a second vehicle ended up in the same area. This time, a 54-year-old female was driving a van.
“They were able to rig a rope, and after the one officer went under water several times, they were able to remove the victim and bring her back to the hillside,” said Hissrich.
Two women and two children died on the same road in August 2011 when their cars were submerged during a sudden storm. The electronic gates installed since, which are supposed to be activated by rain sensors, failed on Sunday so police had to manually block the road.
According to a press release from the mayor’s office, there are 11 separate units in the flood gate system, including signals, gates and sensors, and a computer system overseeing communications among the units. Fixes could be as simple as replacing backup batteries at the units or removing trees interfering with telecommunications, or be more critical, requiring replacement of some units. The City is working with its electrical contractor Allegheny City Electric to subcontract with Bronder Technical Services – which fabricated and installed the gates in 2011 – to study the system.
“As far as the gate, state road, PennDOT built it, as far as whether it was their responsibility or the city’s responsibility, it doesn’t matter. It is the responsibility to make sure people safe,” said Mayor Bill Peduto.
The city will now take over inspections and maintenance of a gate and sensor system, the mayor said. The $450,000 system was installed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
“We’ll own it from here on out,” Peduto said. “We’ll maintain it and we’ll make sure the system works.”
“Obviously, there have been repeated failures with this system, but we have a plan to address them, and to make this system whole,” said Public Works Director Mike Gable.
Earlier this year, a gate at the intersection of Negley Run and Washington boulevards was broken when the gate unexpectedly dropped and a motorist crashed through it.
Officials stressed that people should turn around, rather than try to drive through flood waters.
“Storm events like this are nothing new to Pittsburgh. I can’t emphasize enough that motorists should never drive through standing or flowing water, and if they do become stuck should remain in their vehicles until help arrives,” said Hissrich.
The same storm system is also being blamed for flooding in Connellsville, about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, where school was canceled Monday.
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