A multiyear effort to inventory local roads and bridges dominated dialogue Wednesday morning during a North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission [NCPRPDC] meeting as the board of directors linked the issue with Senate Bill 1100 (drilling impact fee).
All locally-owned roads and bridges under 20 feet are being inventoried, according to Amy Kessler, director of the Community Development and Regional Planning department at North Central.
"Right now we're collecting the major roads in McKean County and we have less than three weeks to get them all by Dec. 1," Kessler said. "They're spending a lot of time doing this and there is some low reception in some of the areas. With the condition of our infrastructure, we really don't have our arms wrapped around it in a local sense.
"We're looking at the condition of some local roads and the condition of bridges under 20 feet that aren't required to be inspected on a federal level-- there are some bridges from eight to 20 feet that need to be inspected but we need to do the inventory, and that's being replicated statewide."
Identification measures include the type of road [dirt, gravel, paved], measurements, and the addition of shoulders or sidewalks. There are two staff members reportedly in the field doing the legwork.
Paul Corbin, a Jefferson County commissioner and member of the commission's board of directors, suggested a possible link between the Marcellus Shale drilling activity and the impact that the road inventory could have on S.B. 1100.
"It's not going to be legally binding since we're not certified as engineers, but it will provide them with a timestamp of what that road looked like from our perspective before it was subjected to heavy use associated with Marcellus Shale drilling," Kessler said. "We're also trying to find out how to video-log it but then we're faced with the challenge of storing that video-- we don't have the IT equipment capable of storing all this, nor should it be our responsibility. We're working with PennDOT to see those options to manage that."
Bridges are the top priority, as the next step would be to get the structures inspected by certified engineers.
"There are a lot of small bridges that are really the lifelines for a lot of residents," Kessler said. "At some point based on a lot of the pictures we have, then people will be going out to see what may potentially be at-risk bridges. Until the money is there that basically says 'Go inspect it,' we can't really even have that conversation because we don't even know what's out there.
"One of our larger townships, and I won't say who it is, but they thought they only had four local bridges under 20 feet, but they actually had 12. That's a problem on their part because they weren't planning on the capital reinvestments of those structures. Regardless, this is nothing more than an inventory to tell us what is out there."
McKean County Commissioner Joe DeMott, who also serves as chairman of the commission's board of directors, recalled his days as a member of the transportation funding commission and indicated awareness is not as high as it once was in regard to infrastructure.
"There was a lot more awareness on the federal and state government level involving the conditions of the roads that they own and maintain," DeMott said. "They drive on them and they're working on them constantly. When you get down to a local road, I think there are gaps there in what is known and what is not known when it comes to making a case about what can be done with these roads."
According to Kessler, there are at least 800 locally-owned bridges in the commission's six-county region, but without any official reports regarding condition as deemed by a certified engineer.
"That is the conversation that is missing, knowing that we have these structures," Kessler said. "In some of our areas, those local assets are more important than the state assets. It's vital for those to remain open and operational. But if we don't know where they are, it's harder for us to do that.
"We're looking at duplicate of structures too-- maybe three structures within a mile-- do you need all three of them?-- can you close two of them and maybe focus on maintaining one of them? That's just another part of the conversation, but you have to maintain the vital links to connect the communities."
For Eric Bridges, executive director of North Central, the process is both timely and possibly critical if the legislation goes through.
"Assuming it all goes through, they'll be looking at what investments they'll be making for their communities," Bridges said. "It seems to me that this process should be part of that decision-making process. It would help make a more informed decision.
"If resources do become available to townships and municipalities for rehabilitation or improvements to roads, I wonder how the process will work and I can see how some of our work will be valuable to that process."
Board member and Clearfield County Commissioner Mark McCracken indicated Wednesday that controversy continues to be associated with the bill.
"It's going on between the 'Marcellus counties' versus a county where there isn't much or any drilling," McCracken said. "We have a conference coming up this weekend and I'm sure there will be a lot of discussion on the impact fee issue.
"From my standpoint, I think a lot of it is up in the air, even amongst county commissioners themselves because you have the 'non-Marcellus counties' that also would like to have a little chunk of that money, whereas some other parts of the state would want a lot of it."
Pick up a copy of the Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.
When: Wednesday, Dec. 21
Where: North Central offices, 651 Montmorenci Rd.,
Time: 9:30 a.m.