RETROSPECTIVE (2008 to mid 2011)
TRUCK TRAFFIC AND ROAD DAMAGE
Bradford County experiences a massive increase in heavy truck traffic
Because I work in Bradford County, 2009 provided me with previews of what would be coming to Sullivan County where the invasion is about a year behind Bradford County’s. What I was seeing in Bradford County was an almost overnight increase in the number of gas industry related trucks. We in northcentral PA are used to a certain amount of trucking: cattle trucks, milk trucks and logging trucks. But this was a massive assortment of strange looking vehicles, often marked “over-sized”, carrying what I’ve since learned are the materials and equipment needed to build well pads and drill. I also began to notice areas where single wide trailers were being stored and have since learned that these are moved to the well pads to house workers during the drilling process.
The bridge that carries Route 6 across the Susquehanna River into Towanda, while always something of a bottleneck due to the traffic light on the Towanda side, was now routinely covered with long trucking rigs. Traffic backups a half mile long in both directions went from being unheard of to the norm.
Heavy truck taffic arrives in Sullivan County
In the spring of 2010, the trucking traffic appeared in Sullivan County. I first became aware of it through the large number of heavy trucks that began streaming up and down the back road that we take when we drive to Towanda. What we had always appreciated as a quiet, winding mountain road was now filled with the sight, sounds and noxious smells of Mac trucks carrying loads of gravel.
This truck traffic has not abated. In a simple drive from my home to Route 220, a distance of about eight miles, I can expect to encounter at least five to ten heavy trucks, either in the oncoming lane or ahead of me, where I can view the dark colored diesel fumes blasting into the mountain air.
Our roads become dangerous places to drive
One night in 2010 I drove home and came upon a water truck that had crashed off the road. It had apparently missed the second curve in one of the S curves, ripped through the guard rail and gone down over the embankment. The rig was gone the next day, but a year later the torn wire rope remains, and a sapling that was ripped in half still gives silent testimony to what happened.
I’ve since noticed that throughout Sullivan County the wire rope guide erails which had served the area for decades, are now in many places twisted and sometimes torn to shreds.
Many of the CDL drivers on our roads appear to be newly licensed. Ads for drivers are posted in the local papers and on signs, and a local college churns out CDL classes all year long. The perceived inexperience of many drivers contributes to our feeling that the roads have become quite unsafe to travel.
After my own experience, my family began saying good-by each day with the words “drive safely” and sincerely meaning it. Our roads were built to hold two cars on a road expected to be empty most of the time. Now there was - as a Bradford County commissioner said after several gas vehicle-car related accidents - ” no margin for error.” Since my job often required me to return home after dark, this was particularly worrisome. The gas industry operates ceaselessly. There are no weekends or evenings when it shuts down. Mac trucks were coming and going day and night, and let the driver beware.
Physical damage to the roads grows, taking a toll on passenger vehicles
Meanwhile the roads around us were getting pulverized by the trucks. One Sunday in the spring of 2010, our neighbor thought he’d take a ride on his motorcycle. Two miles down the road, he came over a ridge and ran into an unexpected stretch of smashed road which totaled his bike and sent him to the hospital with an injured leg. Now, not only did we have to watch for trucks coming at us on minimal road space – and not just one at a time but in convoys – but we also needed to on guard for areas over a hill or around a curve where the road might be damaged to the point of being impassable at normal speeds.
I happened to be getting my car repaired about this time, and was told by the body shop manager that he was receiving lots of work due to people who had had such a surprise waiting for them. I guess this is an aspect of the “economic boom” to the area – the auto body mechanics were having a heyday.
Dirt roads are no longer pleasant places to walk
The sounds of the traffic have also been encroaching upon us. We live about two miles from route 87, and one day I noticed that I could hear the truck traffic booming in the distance. This was never distinguishable before. Since I live here because I deeply appreciate the sensation of merging with the wind sounds and bird songs when alone outside, this distant cacophony of the incoming industry really got to me.
There is a three mile stretch of road that is mostly hard dirt that I’ve walked for years with my dogs. Because it was so unused, I would let one run while the other was leashed, and they took turns that way. My dogs loved it and so did I. However with the added number of both company vehicles and gas trucks coming through at any time of the day and any day of the week, I no longer take that walk.
Endless road repair and upgrades follow the road destruction
With the destruction of the roads come the repairs. I wish I had a quarter for every time I have had to wait in traffic due to road work. Then perhaps I’d feel like I’m part of this “economic boom”. The road work, now, in 2011, is so extensive that it’s impossible to make any kind of journey around Bradford and Sullivan counties without dealing with it, not once, but at least twice and often more times in one drive. Now that they’re also putting in the pipelines, the hold ups are even more numerous. Just this summer I apologized for being late for my car inspection appointment due to the road work and the reply was that you might as well plan an extra 30 minutes to get anywhere now.
The gas companies are not only temporarily fixing the pulverized roads, they are returning to tear them up and put down another surface that will then be able to sustain the heavy truck traffic to and from drilling sites.Which leads me to the shoulders of the roads. Apparently the newly constructed roads must be exceptionally solid in order to sustain the increased traffic. When upgrades are complete, the paved surface is from 6 to 12 inches higher than the shoulder. What this means is that anyone needing to avoid an oncoming large rig or Mac truck that is taking up too much room faces the likelihood of extensive vehicle damage. And there is also the risk of rolling one’s car down one of the steep embankment that are common around here. I look at these shoulders and the guide rails every time I make the drive to Towanda. It makes me nervous and tense to say the least. More and more I’d just like to stay home, and I hear others saying the same.
The road crews apparently do return eventually and make an effort to raise the lower shoulders with stone. I wonder how long this will last before it washes out though. I came home one night after a sudden downpour and was stopped by an emergency worker who told me to be careful driving up the hill. I could see why I’d been warned, the stones and gravel were strewn all over the road.
Roadkills of wildlife and pets increase
And then there’s the road kill. I know many cat owners who have lost their beloved cats to the roads this last year, When I was at the vets this spring, he mentioned that he’s seeing more of such injuries because “the cats aren’t used to the increased traffic.”
And finally, and sadly, the wildlife is being pulverized too. In a highly rural area like Sullivan County, some vehicle collisions with wildife are inevitable, but the road kill along the side of the road has vastly exceeded the norm. I’ve seen deer mangled so badly that I know it’s not the result of a car collision. The saddest sight to me has been the dead fawns that I’ve viewed over and over again. My feeling is that while cars can generally drive around them when they’re spotted stumbling into the road, Mac trucks and big rigs can’t slow down or maneuver.
What’s deeply appalling to me is that this is just the beginning of the placement of drilling pads planned for the county. Recently, in preparation for repaving, flags and booms were placed along the road that runs past my house and along another that we use to get to routes 220 and 87. The road work is crawling ever closer to us who chose to dwell in an area where it is normal to see a herd of sheep baa-ing along on their way to the next pasture and maple syrup buckets hanging from the maple trees along the road in the early spring. In an article in the Sullivan Review dated August 10, 2011, I read “Approximately eighty percent of the land in Sullivan County has been leased to natural gas companies.” I know they aren’t prepping the roads around my home because they’re such good neighbors.
Damaged wire rope guard rail at two different locations in Sullivan County, PA.
August 18, 2011 photos by Chloe Kelly.
Sign in Bradford County on Route 220N.Many newly licensed drivers equals more accidents.
July 12, 2011 photo by M. Terlizzi
Elevated road surface at two different locations in Sullivan County, PA.
August 2011 photos by C. Kelly