PUBLIC WORKS DIRECTOR
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It’s impossible to walk or drive anywhere in Mt. Lebanon and not see evidence of the work that the public works department does. They repair the roads, plow the roads, fix the sidewalks, maintain the traffic lights and the Uptown light poles, plant trees on the tree lawns and in the parks, do every bit of maintenance and upkeep in the parks and in other municipal facilities. They coordinate trash pickup with our waste hauler and coordinate traffic and engineering projects with our municipal traffic consultants and engineers. The public works department has 24 full-time employees with a range of specialties, including electricians, plumbers, carpenters and mechanics.
The forestry division of the Mt. Lebanon public works department maintains municipal street trees that were planted within the street right-of-way by the municipality as well as trees on municipal property such as parks and traffic islands. Mt. Lebanon has about 11,000 street trees and about 10,000 more in parks.
Mt. Lebanon purchases trees in bulk and keeps them at a nursery at the public works facility on Cedar Boulevard. If a municipal tree in front of your house dies (either on the tree lawn—the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk—or, if you have no sidewalk, in the 10-foot right-of-way from the street), the municipality will replace it at no charge. If you do not have a tree in front of your house, you may purchase one and have it planted for a total cost of $155.
To request a tree, call 412-343-3403. The forestry crew will select the most suitable spot and type of tree for your location, taking into consideration factors such as proximity to utility wires, possibility of obscuring the view for drivers and pedestrians, and the possibility of roots damaging sidewalks or underground pipes.
The public works department works with Gateway Engineering, the municipality’s engineering contractor, to compile the list of streets, using Pavement View, a software program that evaluates the condition of each street.
Summer engineering interns survey the conditions of each road in Mt. Lebanon. Other factors to consider are the amount of traffic the street carries, whether it’s a heavily travelled main road, a residential street, dead-end or cul de sac, which sees much less traffic; or a collector street, which connects arterials with the other streets. Pavement View also considers the length of time since the street was last repaired, and what material the street is composed of.
Each defect in the pavement is given a numerical value, which is subtracted from 100 to arrive at the street’s Overall Condition Index (OCI) number. A score of 85 to 100 indicates a street that doesn’t need any repair; 60 to 84 calls for minor repairs; 45 to 59 requires major repairs, and an OCI below 45 means that section of street needs major repairs or reconstruction, which involves excavating all layers of the road and rebuilding it.
Utility companies can take advantage of the street opening to replace any deteriorated underground lines.
If the construction leaves you without the use of your driveway, you will be able to park on nearby streets overnight. The municipality will notify the police department of the project, so you will not need to call and request overnight parking permission. The contractor will leave a notice at your front door a few days before construction begins.
Leaves, Ice and Snow
Since it’s illegal to put leaves into a landfill, the public works department makes leaf collection its top priority in the fall. Collection crews work 10-hour days, including Saturdays, but as with many public works projects, leaf collection is dependent on weather. Some years, leaves cling to the trees for weeks at a time until a strong storm knocks them all down at once.
Mt. Lebanon puts six trucks on the road every day during leaf season to collect leaves. The trucks do not move on to a new section until they have cleared all the leaves from the section they are working in. So if your pickup day is Tuesday and you don’t see the trucks that day, it doesn’t mean they’ve skipped you. It means they’re still working on Monday’s leaves and they will get to you when they’re finished.
At the same time, if the trucks finish a section early, they will move on to the next day’s assignment to get a head start, so again, if your day is Tuesday but you see the trucks on your street on Monday afternoon and you weren’t planning on raking until Monday evening, don’t worry. They’ll come back to finish up.
One thing that slows the process is when residents rake leaves to the curb the day after the truck departs, or several days before the schedule. Public works asks that you rake the leaves to the curb the day before your scheduled pickup. Even two days before is OK, but any more than that can cause snags.
You can help speed collection by raking your leaves into smaller piles. The leaf chutes are about three or four feet wide, so a pile that takes up more space than that will require multiple passes. If you live near an intersection, keep your leaves as far back from the intersection as possible. That makes it easier to maneuver the big trucks.
Advice for Residents of Dead-End Streets
It is not feasible to reach all locations with a vacuum truck. Dead-end streets offer limited turning room and high-traffic main streets are too busy to permit vacuum collection. Residents of these areas are advised to bag their leaves for Saturday collection each week. Place all leaves in biodegradable brown paper bags. Bags must be placed at the curb prior to 7 a.m. Saturday.
If you are not sure which policy applies to you, call the Public Works Department at (412) 343-3403. Please be advised that poor weather conditions, such as snow and rain, may delay pickup.
The priority shifts when snow is in the forecast. Switching from leaf truck to snowplow is not a quick process. Removing the leaf collection boxes, mounting the salt spreaders and servicing the trucks—leaf duty takes a toll on the brakes and coats a lot of moving parts with dirt—takes a full day and sometimes part of a second day.
Every year, well before the snow starts falling, public works crews take a refresher course in snow and ice control. That includes reviewing the nine snowplow routes—three main and six residential—first on paper, and then by driving them. On the first callout, senior staff will ride shotgun with newer employees to ensure they have a full sense of everything they need to accomplish on the route.
Quitting time for the public works crews is 3:30 p.m. When snow threatens, the crews remain on call for an additional two hours or so before making a decision.
A full callout requires nine drivers and one employee, called an “operator,” who is responsible for loading the trucks. The department’s two mechanics are also on duty to make any necessary emergency repairs. Although the trucks are on standby, they’re not loaded until they’re ready to roll out, because the two to six tons of salt can wreak havoc on even a heavy-duty suspension system.
Once the trucks are on the roads, it takes about three or four hours to salt each of the routes, which consist of about 20 to 24 lane miles of street. (Lane miles are calculated by multiplying the number of miles in a street by the number of the street’s lanes.) This factors in time to return to base and reload, since each route requires more than a single truckload of salt.
Plowing takes significantly longer than salting. While salting takes just one pass of the truck, it often takes three or four passes of the plow before a road is drivable. Plowing is also more time-consuming because, while a salt truck travels the speed limit when conditions permit, the maximum speed a snowplow can travel is 15 miles per hour.
The first priority is, of course, public safety. Crews will make sure emergency vehicles can get around, and there is a clear path to St. Clair Hospital and the community’s assisted care facilities.
Schools and steep grades also get extra attention, as do brick streets, because their uneven surfaces make for difficult winter driving. Once those areas are cleared, crews begin working on the residential areas.
As with leaf collection, you can make snow and ice control easier by not parking on the street while the plows are running. If you can’t avoid it, at least try not to park directly opposite another vehicle.
The fire department makes the same request, and it’s because getting a 10-foot or wider vehicle through two parallel cars can make for a pretty tight squeeze.
As you clear your driveway and sidewalk, it’s best to shovel the snow into your yard, behind your sidewalk. If you have to shovel snow into the street, shovel it to the right as you are facing the road, because that’s the direction the plows will be going. If you shovel it to the left of your driveway, you’re going to see it again after the plows pass by.