BY STACI WILSON
Representatives from Pennsylvania State Police and PennDOT answered questions about the recent crackdown on commercial trucking in the area at the county economic development board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 9.
Questions about the increased stops of trucks and road bonding issues were raised at the October meeting.
PSP Motor Carrier Enforcement Supervisor Rion Stann said that with the development of Marcellus Shale, truck traffic has increased on the county’s rural roads.
“It’s a new ballgame,” said Stann. “We hold everyone to the same standard and don’t target a specific industry.”
In the past, most motor carrier enforcement was done on the highways, said Stann. But, he said, the patrols “go where the truck traffic is” which has led PSP to set up the stops on the roads in the county.
Stann explained that different levels of inspection are also being conducted.
He said, “Sometimes we just look at driver’s documents and sometimes we check the truck bumper to bumper.”
According to Stann, on a national level those bumper to bumper inspection place 18-20 percent of trucks out of service. The percentage of trucks working with the Marcellus Shale industry placed out of service is closer to 25 percent, said Stann.
The compliance checks inspect the drivers, size and weight of the trucks, explained Stann.
Although there are a lot of overweight trucks, Stann said there is no standout trend to the violations.
Stann said that if no critical violations are found during a bumper to bumper, level one, inspection, the truck is issued a decal, valid for the month of inspection and the two following months.
However, only trucks given the level one inspection can receive the decal.
Stann said sites available to conduct the full inspections are limited in the county. “The more inspection stations we have, the more we’ll be able to do complete inspections.”
Stann also offers to conduct safety talks at local companies to tell truckers what Motor Carrier Enforcement officers are looking for and can even provide a mock inspection of the vehicles.
PennDOT Maintenance Special Projects engineer Bill White discussed the road construction aspect of the Marcellus Shale affected roadways.
White said the natural gas industry is looking at the roads they are driving on and upgrade the roads to handle the traffic, rather than make repairs on the weekly basis.
White said not a lot of drainage ditches exist on the four-digit state routes so water sits under the roadway, causing the roads to heave in the freeze-thaw cycle.
Drainage conditions on Rt. 367, in Auburn Twp., are being enhanced by Chesapeake Energy. The improvement will minimize icing on the roadway.
White said work on Rt. 367 is not yet complete but will be finished up by the company next spring. “No taxpayer money is going into it,” White said.
Rt. 367 is the only three-digit state route posted in Susquehanna County due to the number of natural gas wells planned on the road, said White.
White was questioned about the condition of Rt. 167, north of Montrose.
He said that the road was not posted and 100 percent of repairs to the route would have to come from state money, but noted, “The Susquehanna County maintenance budget is in horrendous shape.”
He said about a quarter of a million dollars has been spent posting the roads and expects the total to be closer to half a million by the time it’s done.
White said the county’s maintenance budget has been cut significantly over the past few years.
PennDOT posted and bonding road coordinator Sal Donato said that prior to 2010, only 383 miles of roads were posted. Now 1,553 miles in the six counties that comprise PennDOT’s District 4 are posted. They are Lackawanna, Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.
Donato said all four-digit state routes in Susquehanna County are now posted with a 10-ton weight limit.
Donato said, “If anyone wants to use the road on a consistent basis they must bond the road.”
He explained a company can bond the road for only number of miles they want to use at a cost of $12,500 per mile.
Bonded roads are inspected on a weekly basis, said Donato. “Most gas companies have roads bonded for them and their subcontractors.”
Stann said local traffic is allowed to run on the roads overweight but proof of where the load is going – such as a bill of lading – is needed.
If there is a legal way to get a load to a site, drivers must use it instead of running overweight on the roads.
Weight limits cannot, however, be exceeded on bridges, said Donato.
Donato also said a number of roads in the county are bonded by more than one company.
If one of those roads is damaged, Donato said he tells the parties involved to “go have coffee and work it out.”
“If they can’t come up with a decision, I divide (the cost) up equally,” Donato said.
He can also pull permits if no decision is made, he said.
“There is very rarely an argument,” Donato said. “It’s usually taken care of.”
Information about the posted and bonded roads, and other PennDOT and Marcellus Shale issues is available on the District 4 website at www.state.dot.pa.us
Stann said Motor Carrier regulations are also available on the internet.
“Our goal is compliance,” Stann said. “If we can have a truck in compliance when it leaves the yard – that’s a great day for us.”