10:06am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

DOH addresses gas industry’s impact on roads

WHEELING, W.Va. – Roads are on the mind of every West Virginia driver who has to clang through and weave around potholes. But they’re also on the minds of oil and gas industry executives whose companies have to use, maintain and sometimes rebuild them to keep the gas flowing and keep all the other drivers happy.

Marvin Murphy, assistant deputy secretary for the Department of Transportation, talked with industry reps about what the residents expect and what the state expects during the second day of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association spring meeting at Oglebay Resort.

Murphy opened with a quick review of the Division of Highways Secondary Roads Maintenance Initiative. “This is a major issue for us right now,” he said. 15,215 projects cover 3,000 pages and will cost about $2.5 billion all told.

Residents can view the regularly updated project list – a county-by-county list where completed jobs are marked in red – at https://transportation.wv.gov/Pages/Secondary-Roads-Maintenance-Initiative.aspx.

DOH updates the list every Tuesday and posts updates every Thursday, he told the WVONGA members.

Among the well-known challenges to timely maintenance, Murphy reminded them, are personnel shortages and equipment needs. “We have trucks that are 13 years old, well past their prime.” The annual $15 million equipment budget poses an ongoing challenge as prices continue to rise.

Murphy spent more time on the industry’s impact on secondary roads and the roles of DOH and the industry in keeping them open and drivable.

“The public sees you as partially to blame” for poorly maintained roads, he said. In their view, the industry doesn’t do its fair share in maintain roads it tears up.

DOH and WVONGA both know that while the majority of companies do their jobs, there have been a couple that have failed to do timely maintenance in violation of policy, he said. That feeds public resentment, which is growing. “They point as you as the responsible party. … You’re just here to do what you’re going to do and you’re going to do it regardless.”

There’s been some confusion by some companies that they don’t need to do ditching as part of their maintenance he said. They need to do it. They may need to do some regulatory paperwork, though. “If you squash the ditch in,” you need to reopen it. “We just need to have a conversation in a manner we can deal with and find a solution.”

Beyond maintenance, residents resent it when industry trucks and equipment block their roads – keeping them from keeping appointments and sometimes blocking bus routes. “That has been a real bone of contention. … We have to keep those roads open. You have no right to take access from those people who’ve lived there 50 years.”

Many areas have hours set where the industry has to keep the roads open for school buses. And in cases where a bus and a truck reach a standoff, the school bus is not legally permitted to back up. “Most of you cooperate very well. … We do work with you all.”

There have been a few other areas of confusion, such as companies not informing DOH about its plans to pave roads. “I think a little better communication between all of us would help.”

And companies need to inform DOH what it spends on paving and maintenance, he told them. “We need those costs to show you have done a reasonable amount of work on the road itself.”

For the public, more information, such as an overview of Roads to Prosperity (also called Drive Forward WV), work zones and job opportunities can be found at https://transportation.wv.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

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