Lawmakers see, hear struggles of local roads meeting natural gas - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Lawmakers see, hear struggles of local roads meeting natural gas demands

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Courtesy: West Virginia Department of Transportation Courtesy: West Virginia Department of Transportation
Courtesy: West Virginia Department of Transportation Courtesy: West Virginia Department of Transportation
Courtesy: West Virginia Department of Transportation Courtesy: West Virginia Department of Transportation
Courtesy: West Virginia Department of Transportation Courtesy: West Virginia Department of Transportation
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WHEELING, WV -

For all the jobs and economic boost the natural gas industry has brought to the Northern Panhandle, the heavy trucks and frequent traffic has been a bust for many local roads that were never made to handle it.

Lawmakers were told roads that normally carry 10 to 15 cars per day are seeing as many as 1,500 trucks in a 24-hour span.

The Legislature's Select Committee on Infrastructure met June 20 at West Virginia Northern Community College to hear a presentation from the West Virginia Department of Transportation. Gary Clayton, a regional maintenance engineer for the Division of Highways, showed several photos of roads in Ohio, Marshall and Ritchie counties.

He said he wanted to make sure lawmakers understood "the magnitude of the situation we're in."

"The cause of the problems we see are basically a lot of the equipment is on secondary roads, and it's not the kind of equipment those roads were designed for," Clayton said.

Clayton showed photos of some of the damage that included a log truck and a school bus wrecking in a curve and several torn out guard rails from trucks unfamiliar with and unable to make many of the sharp turns, as well as a truck that took an 18 percent grade then couldn't stop so it ended up pushing through the guard rail and stopped in a residential yard.

"There's not a lot of major damage, but it's still something in constant need of repair," Clayton said.

He explained that the traffic the roads are handling is more suited to the type of pavement put on interstates. He also showed the mess that dirt roads turn into because of the heavy traffic, becoming muddy pits or dusty tunnels, and he showed a time-lapsed video of 47 trucks traveling a road in one hour.

"We always video every road when they come in and when they leave," Clayton said, and they try to upgrade the roads before the industry comes through.

He said there is a voluntary road maintenance agreement with the industry and a district-wide $250,000 bond.

"West Virginia seems to be the only state with a real maintenance policy in place," Clayton said. One of the presentation slides pointed out that most states are not receiving cooperation from the industry and West Virginia is.

"They worked with us to establish guidelines that are now a part of the permit requirements," he said.

Clayton said more turning lanes would help alleviate some of the stress on the roads.

Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, spoke to lawmakers as well, telling them the industry began voluntarily working with DOH two to three years ago, and the policy they developed has been renewed.

"We believe the program has worked well," Burd said. "Of course we see the pictures and the damage done, but they are repaired."

Burd said he has never shied away from addressing any potential issues with the Legislature, and often problems arise from a lack of communication.

"I don't know that there's ever been an instance that hasn't been resolved," Burd said, adding that DOH has been "extremely helpful," to guide companies onto sites that can be remote and difficult to access.

Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, is co-chairman of the subcommittee. She said her district has seen similar struggles as the coal industry matured, and it's important to balance the income and the development with the necessary repairs to damage.

She said communication about the situation is important, and it's good that the industry has remained open and receptive.

"When you're stuck in Charleston, sometimes, that's all you see, and it gets you thinking Charleston," she said. "Each of us brings our own district and that perspective, but when you say there is a problem here, it's another thing to look, and it's very effective."