South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

City upgrades procedures for snow and ice removal


November 20, 2018

The City of Pittsburgh has unveiled new upgrades to its 2018-2019 snow and ice control programs. 

After a review of last year's responses to winter weather, the Department of Public Works is introducing upgrades including a modified road salt mixture, enhanced technologies, increased vehicle capacity, new personnel changes, and a pilot program reintroducing a set number of salt boxes throughout the city. 

The new salt material will be a tinted color blue to help residents see that it has been applied to road surfaces. The new salt mixture will have a lower melting point which is especially beneficial in the colder months.

City DPW trucks are being equipped with new technology allowing the public and supervisory personnel to see when a vehicle's plow is up and down, or if the salt spreader is off or on. The new technology will provide DPW workers with clearer road clearing instruction and allow the city to move away from paper-based snow removal and salt spreading routes, and now be loaded into in-cab tablets.

The upgrades are being implemented through the winter. The current Snow Plow Tracker on the city's website will be suspended until January 2019 when the new tracker and its upgraded features can be launched. 

Presently the city has 104 vehicles that are equipped with plows and spreaders and another 33 vehicles that are equipped with only plows. At full capacity – if no trucks are out for repair –the city has 137 vehicles.

New personnel policy adjustments now allow DPW to bring on Bureau of Environmental Services drivers to help with snow removal after all other resources are exhausted, in accordance with labor agreements. This will serve as a critical change during weekends and holidays when the city has previously faced challenges having a sufficient number of employees to staff the vehicles.

New callout procedures have been amended to provide better oversight of how personnel are called to work during snow events and how overtime is offered. 

The Department of Public Works plans to add 44 salt boxes throughout the city, in a fixed pilot program in targeted areas. These boxes will be placed at streets that are hilly, have sharp bends, and near steps. 

Further details on the changes are:

• Rock Salt uniformly tinted blue and coated with magnesium chloride + OBPE (Organic Based Performance Enhancer) 

• Deicing material has a lower melting point (-25 degrees Fahrenheit to -30 degrees Fahrenheit versus 15 degrees Fahrenheit for regular rock salt) 

• Material is color coated so drivers and pedestrians can visually see that material initially has been applied to the road surface 

• Approximately 16,000 tons of regular rock salt, stockpiled from the previous October 2017-April 2018 winter weather season, will be used in the initial winter weather events until the product is drawn down. Then the newer magnesium chloride salt will be loaded into the city's covered domes and covered outside storage areas 

• This new deicing material with its lower melting point should prove to be especially beneficial in January and February when temperatures hover at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower

Enhanced Technologies: 

• Snow Plow Tracker will take on a new look with the addition of showing the public and the city's supervisory personnel when a vehicle's plow is up or down, or if the salt spreader is on or off. Eventually the street network will be color coded to reflect jurisdictional responsibilities (i.e. city owned streets, county and state roads within the city, state roads maintained by the city, etc.) 

• Vehicles are being up fitted with new GPS technology hardware including the calibration of the spreader/auger/spinner so all winter weather vehicles will be applying the enhanced rock salt at a predetermined rate of application based on conditions. This upgrade alone is expected to save the city millions of dollars in salt expenditures. 

• Existing salt routes are being loaded into in-cab tablets so all the drivers will have to do is select a route and follow its voice commands – no longer will they have to keep referring back and forth with the paper routes, though they will still be in vehicles as a backup. 


• DPW continues to fill truck driver vacancies and is adding more personnel who possess a Commercial Driver's License (CDL), which gives the department more resources to operate the vehicles regardless of shift 

• DPW will also now have the ability to reach out to drivers in the Bureau of Environmental Services after all other resources have been exhausted. This could be especially critical on the weekends and holidays when in the past it was difficult getting a sufficient number of employees to staff the vehicles 


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