Oil & gas traffic a red light on local road usage

Trucks hauling millions of gallons of water, heavy drilling equipment and pipeline for oil and gas companies are already passing through Washington County, and as that traffic increases cities like Marietta, Belpre and the Village of Beverly are growing more concerned about the wear and tear on their roadways.

“We’re seeing 20 to 30 water-hauling trucks traveling through town on Ohio 60 daily,” Beverly Mayor Rex Kenyon said during a meeting of local city and county officials at Lookout Park in Marietta Thursday.

The session was called by Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews to discuss the development of road use maintenance agreements (RUMAs) with oil and gas companies hauling water and equipment over the streets of local communities.

“We have state, county, city and township roads that often cross or intermingle, so we’re looking for some feedback about putting together some sort of uniform road maintenance agreement to cover those roads,” Matthews said.

The Ohio Department of Transportation recommends local government entities to develop RUMAs with the oil and gas companies who can be held responsible to maintain the roadways over which their trucks and equipment pass to access drilling sites.

Washington County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Schneider said the county has entered into two RUMAs with oil and gas companies so far.

“We just signed one with a company operating in Aurelius Township near Macksburg, and another agreement for the Waterford Township area,” he said. “What’s driving these agreements is the oil and gas companies’ need to have good roads to sustain their operations.”

Schneider said county engineer Roger Wright has offered to work with the county’s 22 townships to develop road use agreements as companies begin drilling operations.

Wright will negotiate RUMAs for county roadways, but also for township roads, if township trustees approve. He said many, but not all, have passed resolutions allowing the county to negotiate with companies on their behalf.

As for towns like Marietta, Belpre and Beverly, Wright said he’s willing to help the communities as they seek to develop road use agreements, but there would be some unique issues the municipalities have to consider on their own.

Bill McElfresh with the Marietta Development Advisory Board noted that ODOT takes care of state roads out in the county, but if a state route runs through town, the city is responsible for maintenance of that roadway.

“The city should take a look at how those state roads through town should be handled through a road maintenance agreement,” Wright said. “That’s an issue I don’t have to deal with on state roads in the county.”

Another concern, according to Marietta city engineer Joe Tucker, is that an increased number of heavy trucks traveling through the city could impact a couple of major intersection projects being done this year.

“The city is about to do two intersection improvement projects, at Jefferson, Pike and Acme streets, and Seventh, Pike and Greene,” he said. “Our design criteria has included a certain number of trucks passing through those intersections, but that number could triple with oil and gas traffic.”

He said it would be very difficult to project how many more trucks would be traveling through the intersections as well as what routes they would take, which would depend on the location of drilling sites.

Area resident John Eddleblute said trucks and equipment traveling over area roadways as companies initially establish drilling sites will not be the heaviest traffic.

“When the pipeline construction starts (to transport oil and gas from drilling sites to processing facilities), that’s when the real road damage begins,” he said.

Marietta law director Paul Bertram III noted any RUMA between the city and oil and gas company would only be a voluntary contract.

“The company is saying they’ll repair any roads that they damaged,” he said. “The question is, can we formulate a RUMA that covers all of those repairs? We need to have some way to enforce it.”

Matthews said he wants to continue the conversation in hopes of developing a road use maintenance agreement as soon as possible that will work for the city of Marietta as well as for other communities.

“I attended a recent meeting of Ohio mayors, and none of those cities had anything in place,” he said.