Road crews didn't cause Wednesday's mess. We did.

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

jackSome were quick to fault PennDOT and municipal road crews for Wednesday’s traffic debacle. But those hardworking folks didn’t cause the mess. The culprits were anybody and everybody who was out in a vehicle and didn’t need to be.

We had plenty of advance notice about the storm, starting with a winter storm warning issued on Christmas Day. The National Weather Service said Tuesday it expected the storm to hit around 5 a.m. Wednesday, but before daybreak it adjusted the forecast to call for the heaviest snow mid-morning into early afternoon. That was right on the mark.

Lots of people had the day off, as was evident from the lack of any traffic backups on the parkways during rush hour. When the snow arrived between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., it came down hard and fast. Within 15 minutes there was a quarter-inch on the ground, and it continued to build. When it snows that quickly, pretreatment of roads is ineffective, and plows and salt trucks can’t be everywhere at the same time.

And it wasn’t the type of snow that gets pulverized or brushed aside as traffic passes over it. Vehicles packed it down into a layer of dense slush that made hills and curves treacherous. Soon, the landscape was littered with disabled vehicles and crashes. That stalled traffic, making it difficult for road crews and tow trucks to get around.

Lots of people shop on the day after Christmas, and they went out Wednesday with blithe disregard for the weather and road conditions. There was no reason the shopping couldn’t have been postponed until things got better later in the day. Mix in the people who drove on worn-out tires and those who drove too fast and you have all the ingredients of a disaster.

There’s an expectation among some that no matter what the weather, they should be able to drive on roads that are cleared to the pavement at all times. We don’t pay for that level of service and we shouldn’t expect it. In fact, the amounts we pay for transportation services have decreased sharply over the years and we’ve stripped PennDOT and municipalities to the bone. And yet for the most part they do amazing work to keep the roads clear and us safe.

One other point: employers who released workers early, at the height of the storm, were irresponsibly adding to the problem. We’ve seen it happen over and over in winters past, and yet we never seem to learn. We were fortunate that only a fraction of the workforce was on the job Wednesday. Those who didn’t leave early generally had a much easier commute than those who plunged into the early-afternoon gridlock.



There’s a fascinating New York Times piece in today’s print edition of the Post-Gazette about China’s development of high-speed rail. It opened the world’s longest line on Wednesday that takes people a distance equivalent to New York City to Key West in eight hours. Read it here.



Short-term lane closures are possible on the ramp from the 40th Street Bridge to Millvale as crews install new overhead signs on the ramp from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

The new northbound on-ramp and southbound off-ramp at the Meadow Lands interchange of Interstate 79 in Washington County will open by the close of business Friday, according to PennDOT District 12. The connector ramps to Locust Avenue also will open but traffic signals there will not be operational. Manifold Road will stay closed at Panorama Drive.

Lane closures are possible on the McKees Rocks Bridge from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday during inspections.

Overhead sign inspections may cause lane closures on the following roads during the day Thursday: Parkway West off-ramp in Carnegie; the Elizabeth Bridge on Route 51; West Carson Street near the West End Bridge; West Liberty Avenue at Route 51; and Route 910 at the Route 28 interchange in Harmar.

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