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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When it comes to the flood gate system on Washington Boulevard, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich is blunt.

“As far as I’m concerned the system is not reliable. It’s very aggravating,” he said.

As the rains fell on Tuesday night, Zone 5 police officers saw the water rising on the Boulevard, realized the sensors weren’t activating the flood gates, so they called the Zone 5 desk.

“There’s a red button behind the desk that they push and manually activate the gates,” Hissrich said.

That’s exactly what happened.

“All the warning signs lit but that gate did not come down,” Hissrich said.

Investigators still don’t know why.

Watch Meghan Schiller’s report —


Flooding on Washington Boulevard has a long and very sad history. There have been deaths, rescues and harrowing times. So to Hissrich, the idea that the life-saving system is not reliable is “very frustrating.”

“I lose sleep over it. I really do,” he said.

Hissrich says the city has lost confidence in the gate system as the first line of protection.

“Putting more and more money into this system is going to be a waste,” he said. “We are going to have to look at new technology.”

Between the original construction and the money the city has put into the system to keep it going, it has cost about half million dollars. The city is looking to PennDOT, which built the current system, for help to replace it with something that works.

PennDOT tells KDKA, “As a resource for our local government partners, we are prepared to offer technical guidance as the city determines how they will proceed.”

Until a new system can be installed, Hissrich says they’ll band-aid the current gates as best they can.

“Before we were a backup to the gate system, now it’s going to be the gate system backing up the barricades and the police officers,” he said. “It’s a dangerous situation but with the training the Zone 5 officers have, I think we will be able to mitigate any problem we might have.”

There is no timetable, or known source of funding, for the replacement gates.