Storm disrupts Light Rail, garbage pickup, liquor stores

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Getting around today was either a crawl or not at all.

Winter weather continued to disrupt transportation systems, schools, appointments, businesses and utilities as freezing rain and ice overnight turned to snow this morning.

The City of Pittsburgh early this morning canceled garbage collection over fears workers would slip on the ice. The city told residents to keep putting trash out on schedule.

And this afternoon, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced that all liquor stores would close today at 4 p.m.

Forecasts call for temperatures to drop to single digits overnight. Winds are to pick up and create dangerous wind-chill factors late today through early tomorrow.

The Port Authority's light-rail system was stopped by ice last night and didn't operate today. Officials had hoped trolleys would resume operations by noon in the Downtown subway and on the 42S line through Beechview, Mt. Lebanon and Dormont. But at 4 p.m. the authority announced T service would not be restored in time for this afternoon's rush.

Authority spokeswoman Carmen Bray said the agency hoped to restore service on the Beechview-Mt. Lebanon line later tonight. She said the Overbrook and Library lines would not reopen tonight.

The authority planned to provide shuttle bus service to "major" LRT stations, including Mt. Lebanon, Castle Shannon, Washington Junction and South Hills Village, Ms. Bray said.

Dozens of bus routes didn't operate this morning, or went into service late, because drivers were stranded and couldn't get to authority garages. Buses that did run often stayed on main roads because side streets and hilly areas were inaccessible. This afternoon, the Port Authority announced some bus routes were running an hour behind and encouraged riders to go to main roads.

Riders complained about being unable to reach the authority's customer service phone lines, problems accessing the Web page, and the absence of information once the page appeared. An authority official acknowledged that nothing had been posted on the internet about problems and delays.

Most staying indoors

But there were far fewer people Downtown or anywhere today. Several shopping malls were closed for the morning, schools and other activities were mostly canceled, attractions like the Carnegie Museums were closed and the Pittsburgh Zoo announced it would not reopen until Saturday.

Some motorists who park outdoors simply gave up before they got under way, finding their vehicles encrusted in ice and their doors frozen shut.

Secondary and even some main roads were snow-covered, slush-covered or icy, making travel hazardous. The going was slow not only because of poor road conditions but also because of a rash of accidents and trucks stuck and spinning their wheels.

Even icy sidewalks were a problem. Some people avoided them by walking on streets that, albeit messy, were nevertheless plowed.

Pittsburgh International Airport remains open but airlines face delays, mainly because planes are late arriving from other cities where weather is also a problem. Before departing, planes are stacked up at times for de-icing before they can take off.

Airport officials advised passengers to check with individual airlines for updated flight information.

Pittsburgh Public Schools and nearly all suburban school districts are closed for the day, many for the second day in a row. South Hills Village, Century III and the Mall at Robinson were scheduled to open at noon.

Power outages affected thousands of customers throughout Western Pennsylvania, including parts of Shaler, Hampton, Green Tree and Bethel Park. Power lines downed by ice-laden tree limbs were one problem; ice that shorted transformers was another.

Problems on local highways

Dozens of accidents and spin-outs have been reported on the Pennsylvania Turnpike system. Blizzard conditions and multi-vehicle crashes on the 110-mile Northeast Extension prompted state police to ask drivers to "please delay your travel plans" in the afternoon.

PennDOT has closed the Parkway North high occupancy vehicle lanes between Downtown and the North Hills for the day.

PennDOT District 10 closed I-79 again at 11:10 a.m., this time southbound from Zelienople to Cranberry, because of ice conditions and hazardous driving.

Spokesman Mark Hillwig said crews were out saturating the stretch with ice and brine and then would spread anti-skid materials. He didn't know when the road would be reopened. Meanwhile, southbound traffic is being detoured to Route 19 through Butler County.

Route 51 was a crawl from Brentwood to the Liberty Tunnels this morning as drivers crept up and down hills and even on level stretches of the road. Several tractor-trailers heading southbound were hung up on hills after having to stop for traffic signals

PennDOT District 11 spokesman Jim Struzzi said interstates in the area were cleaned up and flowing freely by mid-morning. Crews remain on around-the-clock duty, and salt supplies remain plentiful.

"Thankfully, lots of people heeded warnings and stayed home, plus so many things are closed," he said. "That helps us."

PennDOT and municipal road crews are to pay more attention to secondary and neighborhood streets as the day progresses. They cautioned motorists about the likelihood of drifts and frozen patches for tomorrow morning, however.

There's not concern about a mass exodus from Downtown and Oakland by public transit as there was in mid-afternoon yesterday.

"Few people are in the city," Port Authority spokesman Bob Grove said. "We're hopeful of being back to normal before anyone wants to leave today."

Pittsburgh road crews were back on primary roads this morning, after a night spent trying to clear some secondary routes, said Public Works Director Guy Costa. "I'm hoping to be done with all of the primary routes by rush hour," he said. Overnight, the city will shift its emphasis back to secondary roads, he said.

All salt loads are being spiked with liquid calcium chloride, he said, so as temperatures drop, they will continue to melt the ice.

He said the city's fleet of 55 trucks and tractors is now down to 49 operating vehicles because of breakdowns. He said no city vehicle has been involved in an accident, and those that broke down are being repaired and returned to service.

The city environmental services department decided early today that weather conditions made it too dangerous to collect garbage, but refuse workers plan to be out tomorrow, Friday and Saturday.

Bill Klimovich, assistant director of environmental services, said

people whose garbage is usually collected on Thursdays should put it out for collection tomorrow, and the same goes for those whose trash is picked up on Fridays.

Residents whose trash was not picked up today should leave it on the curb.

"We'll get to it Thursday, Friday or Saturday,'' Mr. Klimovich said.

The decision not to pick up trash today wasn't made until 5 a.m., he said.

"The main reason we didn't go out was because of the icy conditions and worker safety,'' Mr. Klimovich said. "It was just too dangerous to be walking and carrying things on the ice.''

Mr. Costa said he'd like to remind residents not to throw snow from driveways into streets, as that can cause accidents. Residents should clear their sidewalks, he said, noting that snow-covered walkways are forcing people to walk in the streets, which can be dangerous.

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More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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