Johnson visits, discusses road use for drilling

WINTERSVILLE – U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, made a visit to Jefferson County Thursday to discuss roadway projects, as well as road-use agreements between municipalities and companies involved in Utica shale exploitation.

Johnson also participated in a “ride-a-long” Thursday with local officials to visit areas of construction and growth in the county. Johnson met with Becky Giauque, communications director for the Ohio Department of Transportation District 11; Mike Dolak, Steubenville city engineer; Lloyd MacAdam, district deputy director for ODOT District 11; and Jim Branagan, Jefferson County engineer, to discuss the road agreements between companies involved in oil and gas drilling and local infrastructure at the Jefferson County Engineer’s office. MacAdam and Branagan told Johnson the state recently adopted legislation requiring companies to have a road-use agreement with municipalities before any drilling or heavy machinery is brought to a site using rural and other roadways.

“The (majority of gas drilling) is centered around Carroll County,” said MacAdam, adding local officials worked to ensure companies involved in oil and gas drilling had road-use agreements in place. “It’s a statewide permit for now. (A road-use agreement) must be in place before they even begin drilling.”

Branagan told Johnson the road-use agreements with oil and gas drillers were beneficial to local governments.

“(Oil and gas drillers) are fixing the roads before they even use them,” said Branagan, adding Jefferson County rural roads saw $4.5 million in improvements made by oil and gas drillers doing business in the county in 2012. “The roads will be repaired and upgraded before they even begin (drilling). I was tickled with that.”

Branagan also told Johnson the road-use agreements were created with the assistance of ODOT to protect the rural roads from being abused by drilling contractors. He added the majority of drilling was in the northwest portion of the county near Bergholz.

“That’s where the majority of our wells are right now,” he said.

MacAdam told Johnson there currently are 485 statewide permitted drill sites, all with road-use agreements with local municipalities.

“The lion’s share are here near this (state) district,” he told Johnson. “In Carroll County there have been 100 well sites (created), all with road-use agreements.”

MacAdam also said outside drillers had invested nearly $40 million in rural road upgrades to Carroll County.

Johnson asked officials if they were satisfied with the road-use agreements.

“It’s been a really great experience,” said Branagan, adding the county didn’t have the funds to invest in rural roadway upgrades in Jefferson County as extensively as oil and gas drillers have.

Dolak also told Johnson about recent roadway projects in Steubenville, including upgrades to John Scott Highway and Mall Drive, as well as upgrades to University Boulevard.

All officials told Johnson they were concerned about declining revenue for roadway infrastructures due to less gasoline being used by consumers. A portion of taxes on gasoline is used by states to fund roadway projects. Johnson said he was aware of the difficulties in funding improvements through funds reaped from sales of fuel.

“We need to seriously look at (reforming funding) through a transportation bill,” Johnson said, adding the House of Representatives passed a sweeping, five-year bill with reforms that was drastically changed by the Senate. “I understand the federal gasoline tax is less because of (consumers getting) better gas mileage and (the economy). We’ve got to have another formula on how we’re going to fund (roadway infrastructures).”

All discussed some federal environmental regulations recently that were changed or need to be updated before officials took Johnson on a tour of different construction sites in the area.