District 5

PWSA Cuts Green Infrastructure Elements of Four Mile Run Stormwater Project 

Map showing work area of PWSA stormwater project

The Four Mile Run Stormwater Project will proceed without green infrastructure in Schenley Park that was intended to reduce runoff from Panther Hollow. PWSA officials at a recent meeting said the scope of the project will now be confined to The Run.  

On November 14, about 30 people gathered at the Local 95 Union Hall in The Run, along with 63 virtual attendees on Zoom, to hear long-anticipated updates on the project.  

The green infrastructure element of the plan involved engineering a dam at Panther Hollow Lake and daylighting a stream in Schenley Park. PWSA is dropping it from the project because of persistent permitting issues, technical disagreements concerning the dam, and difficult negotiations with CSX, which owns property affected by the work. Senior group manager of stormwater Tony Igwe laid out the challenges and explained that resolving them would cause further delays.  

“So the decision was to kind of cut bait and look at the lower stormwater portion [in The Run], which is the core of the project,” Mr. Igwe said.  

Map showing water and sewer lines and the limit of work along Boundary Street in The Run
Map showing water and sewer lines and the limit of work along Boundary Street in The Run

The project, first announced in 2017, was billed as a solution to severe flooding in The Run but floundered because of difficulties with permitting and murky ties to the controversial Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road. PWSA’s last public meeting concerning the Four Mile Run Stormwater Project took place in October 2021, before Mayor Ed Gainey announced a halt to the MOC’s route through Schenley Park

Kate Meckler, PWSA’s deputy director of engineering and construction, explained another reason for the change. In the past year, PWSA started implementing the Water Reliability Plan, which it calls “a series of once-in-a-generation projects that will modernize our water distribution system.” 

Ms. Meckler said relocating 4,200 linear feet of 50-inch water main in the park during a critical phase of the Water Reliability Plan could disrupt people’s water service and that coordination proved too complex.  

When work does begin, it will be complicated. Mallory Griffin, who works with construction firm JMT, answered questions about what to expect while work is happening in The Run. 

“The design will not allow us to close the road,” she said. “There will be one-way traffic maintained at all times, traffic flaggers, ambulances will be able to get in and out. There will be a very deep trench next to the road. So it’s going to be a lot of police, a lot of work. It won’t be years; we’re estimating several months to get that pipeline in.” 

Possible help for flooded homeowners 

Laura Vincent said she has been waiting for solutions throughout her nearly 20 years living in The Run. “But honestly, not very much has happened,” she said. In the meantime, Ms. Vincent did extensive work on both of her properties to protect them from flooding.  

“It has cost me thousands of dollars,” she said. “What about my neighbors who haven’t done what I’ve done? Do you know what it means to have shit water eight feet high in your basement?” 

Mr. Igwe replied that the long delays were part of the reason PWSA decided to move ahead without the work in Schenley Park. “The core of the project is to try to remedy some of those situations,” he said. 

Run resident Barb Warwick, newly elected as Pittsburgh’s District 5 city council representative, asked PWSA to work with her to explore the possibility of setting up a fund to help people repair flood damage as months continue to pass without construction on the stormwater project. 

“It could make a huge difference for a resident,” Ms. Warwick said. “And it isn’t that much when you’re looking at the grand scheme of things.” 

So far, PWSA has spent $7 million on the project. The future budget is not finalized, but they expect to retain the $42 million they had last year. 

A new voice emerges on water issues 

The other big news of the night came in the form of a new local organization: the Mon Water Project. Founder Anne Quinn, an environmental scientist and Greenfield resident with a background in water management, said the group is focused on conserving, restoring and advocating for the Monongahela tributaries in Greenfield, Four Mile Run and Greater Hazelwood, which Ms. Quinn christened “the Monongahela peninsula.”  

Ms. Quinn said these neighborhoods have equally important issues with water. She wants the Mon Water Project to join forces with existing community organizations throughout the area. 

Erin Tobin, an outreach coordinator with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, said her organization is looking forward to transitioning its 4MR Watershed Task Force to be under the Mon Water Project, although it will remain involved with stormwater improvement in Schenley Park. View the meeting slides and recording at https://www.pgh2o.com/projects-maintenance/search-all-projects/four-mile-run-stormwater-project. 

Key Findings from the City Controller’s Audit of DOMI

speed humps in District 5 by ZIP code

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb’s office released its performance audit of the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) on August 4. The 70-page document examines DOMI’s creation and functions, along with the department’s handling of projects identified as central to its mission.

In the executive summary section of the introductory letter signed by Controller Lamb, he notes that auditors could not assess DOMI’s progress toward some goals “due to DOMI and the previous mayoral administration being unable to furnish records” of DOMI’s early activities. But the audit has useful information for Pittsburghers. Of special interest to District 5 residents are the audit’s findings on traffic calming, distribution of resources, and the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC).

Traffic calming works, but is applied unevenly

In areas where DOMI has installed speed humps and other traffic-calming measures, the number of drivers exceeding the speed limit has been reduced on average by 38 percent. The audit includes maps of where traffic calming has been put in place and where it is still absent. Figure 5 on page 31 shows a distribution map of speed humps across Pittsburgh’s nine council districts. Markers show speed humps in District 5 concentrated at the northern end, in Squirrel Hill South.

Figure 5 on p. 31 of the City Controller’s audit of DOMI
Figure 5 on p. 31 of the City Controller’s audit of DOMI

District 5’s two ZIP codes highlight the disparity. A closer look using the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center website shows that none of District 5’s 21 speed humps (18 shown, 3 so new they have not yet appeared in the system) are in 15207 (Greenfield, Greater Hazelwood, and the 31st Ward), although dangerous roads in these neighborhoods require urgent attention.

speed humps in District 5 by ZIP code
This map, created in the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, shows District 5 outlined in blue with an additional blue line marking the border between its two ZIP codes. Speed humps, shown as yellow dots, are only in 15217. Source: wprdc.org. Accessed September 4, 2022

Street selection for repaving should be data-driven

Wealthier neighborhoods also enjoy better street maintenance, possibly for similar reasons. Before 2018, resources for streets in the worst condition (scored on an index) were split into Department of Public Works (DPW) divisions. DOMI’s director changed the method in 2018 so that money is split evenly among council districts.

According to recommendation 10 of the audit, “Before concrete and accessible data existed, it was arguably a good idea to tie paving projects in with council districts to ensure equity across the city. However, we now have more comprehensive data, and as a result, more data-driven decisions can be made.”

The audit’s findings call for a return to dividing this work into DPW districts. This would encourage paving streets in worse repair first instead of “dividing the budget by political boundaries,” as stated on page 41. They also suggest avoiding an over-reliance on calls to the city’s 311 system for input, which leads to a “squeaky wheel” approach that can elevate neighborhoods with many 311 callers above those most in need.

The MOC has deeper problems than its name

Although the audit points out DOMI’s lack of transparency, its discussion of the MOC relies on DOMI’s characterization of the project. As a result, the audit contains several inaccuracies about the MOC.

On page 24 it states, “The [MOC] project would also address flooding and stormwater issues and include the implementation of green infrastructure.” However, the MOC has always been a separate project from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA’s) Four Mile Run Stormwater Project. PWSA originally planned to work on their project in the same physical location as the proposed MOC; that is why PWSA submitted a joint application for both projects during the permitting process. But PWSA’s project received no funding until nearly two years after the MOC was announced. In fact, the original grant for the MOC sought by the city and its partners in 2015 stated in its guidelines that funding could only be used for the shuttle road—not to fix flooding in the area.

The audit continues, “The consensus from the second public meeting found citizens selected electric scooters, electric bike-share systems, and electric shuttles to be the ideal solutions.” This statement is not sourced, but seems to have come directly from DOMI. As the audit later notes, the MOC lacked community support from the beginning—partly because the project’s estimated $23 million budget should instead go to infrastructure needs outlined in the community-generated Our Money, Our Solutions plan. These include traffic-calming interventions.

Controller Lamb’s office makes no recommendations concerning the MOC project and their only finding is as follows: “The auditors found that multiple names for this shuttle program were used to reference it. This causes confusion to the public. For example, Mon-Oakland Shuttle, Mon-Oakland Connector Shuttle or just Mon-Oakland Connector were found to be used interchangeably.”

Even so, Controller Lamb stated in a May 27 email that the audit’s review of the MOC helped inform Mayor Gainey’s decision to end the unpopular project.