PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The weekend’s heavy rain has renewed concerns over landslides in western Pennsylvania.
A shovel-load at a time, the big CAT excavators are clawing away at a virtual mountain of mud and debris.
“We figure between 15,000 to 25,000 cubic yards of earth. Which is about 2,000 truck loads, or enough dirt to make a 25 foot high pile on the entire surface of Heinz Field,” Eric Zottola, of Zottola Construction, said.
The slide came down with a vengeance Sunday afternoon, crushing a home and rushing out onto Route 51. The closure of the section of 51 leading up to the West Carson Street ramp and the ramp coming off the West End Bypass to West Carson wreaked havoc on the morning and afternoon rush hours.
“I would estimate that 51 will be closed for the balance of the week. Hopefully not into next week,” Pittsburgh Infrastructure and Mobility Director Karina Ricks said.
Zottola says while the slide appears to be stable for now, “It could go! Nobody knows when or if it will.”
The primary concern for Zottola’s crews is the water that continues to cascade down the hillside.
“The middle part of the pile is still taking on water making that unstable,” he said.
“We need to find a way to give that water some place to go so we’re not accumulating more weight and more pressure too,” Ricks said.
Watch Lisa Washington’s report —
It’s that pressure that keeps crews from just clearing the debris off Route 51 and reopening it. Any removal of the bottom of the slide might bring the entire slide down on 51.
“You need to work your way from the top down, excavate that material from the top and start moving your way down and get that bad material out of there,” PennDOT Dist. 11 Maintenance Operation Engineer Michael Adams said.
It’s a time-consuming and expensive process, and until it’s over, drivers should avoid the area.
“Find alternative means to get to work traveling at a different time, using a different route, commuting with a friend. Anything that can reduce the traffic volumes coming through this area,” Ricks said.
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Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Teresa Kail Smith, who represents that part of the city, says when it comes to landslides, the biggest concern is funding.
“We also need to address these issues city-wide before something like this happens again in another area,” she said. “They are reactionary at this point because it’s an overwhelming number of slides across the City of Pittsburgh. For the city to address all the slides, the last time I checked it was $20 million. So we need help.”
The governor’s office has offered resources to assist the city, including a geo-technical staff from PennDOT.