Area motorists traveling some secondary roads are being hit by a one-two punch as "normal freeze-thaw cycles" and "heavy-truck traffic" are causing deteriorating road conditions, PennDOT said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the county's roads were the subject of some discussion at the Bradford County commissioners' meeting Thursday.

Bradford County Commissioner John Sullivan said trucks in the gas drilling industry are causing significant road damage in Bradford County.

"I think the gas companies are trying to act in good faith," Sullivan said. "They said they were going to take care of the roads, but they just underestimated badly" the extent of the damage their trucks would cause in Bradford County, he said.

It was Burlington Township Supervisor Ed Grant who raised the issue of the recent damage to local roads at the meeting, saying that the township is "fighting to keep Kendall Hill Road and Slater Hill Road open." Both roads have gas wells located on them, Grant added.

And he said that recently Madigan Road in Burlington Township "was totally unsafe for a period of over seven days" due to road damage.

"I think it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt or even worse," due to the road damage caused by heavy truck traffic in Bradford County, Grant said. "This is serious. I can't overemphasize this."

Road damage in the Northern Tier

It's not only Bradford County that's experiencing bad roads.

In making his announcement, Rick Mason, public information officer with PennDOT, said in a news release Thursday that "motorists traveling the secondary road system in the Northern Tier counties, especially Bradford, Tioga, Sullivan and Lycoming, are advised to be alert to deteriorating conditions along some of those roads due to the normal freeze-thaw cycles that occur at this time of year compounded by heavy-truck traffic."

Mason said many of the secondary roads are having severe potholes and rutting due to the heavy-truck traffic. Motorists who encounter these severe conditions are advised to slow down and drive with added caution, he added.

Grant, meanwhile, told the commissioners that in the late afternoon "there are areas of Route 6 that, because of the dust, are so bad you can't see more than 300 feet in front of you."

Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko agreed that Route 6 was a problem. McLinko said he told a representative from the state Department of Transportation earlier this week that Route 6 between Burlington and Troy was "a dirt road."

"It's not that the road is gone," McLinko said. "It's just the dirt on top of the road. And it made for slick conditions when it was wet."

While gas companies are sending out crews to repair the road damage they cause, not enough of the crews are available to address the problem, Grant said.

Sullivan also said he recently toured roads in Asylum and Terry townships that he characterized as "dangerous."

Grant told the commissioners there should be a "coalition" of representatives of townships, the county, PennDOT, the state police and gas companies, which would work together to address the road damage and dust problems.

And he said he wants the coalition to come up with a protocol whereby if a road is not passable, it would be closed until it was fixed. He said it would be better to close a road for a couple of days until it could be fixed, "rather than take a chance of someone getting killed or a school bus going off the road."

While township supervisors have the authority to close township routes, they do not have the authority to close state routes, according to McLinko and Grant.

Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith encouraged Grant to come to the Bradford County Gas Advisory Committee meeting next week to discuss accomplishing his goals, and Grant agreed to do that. The Gas Advisory Committee, which was established by the Bradford County commissioners, has a sub-committee that addresses road damage caused by gas companies and other infrastructure issues.

However, Smith said that the county commissioners are limited in what they can do to solve the road problems, since the county does not own any roads and the commissioners have no authority over roads in the county.

"Maybe we could help facilitate this (resolving the problem)," Smith said.

McLinko said the idea of a coalition was an "excellent idea." McLinko also said township supervisors from around the county and representatives of gas companies should address the issue of road damage at a conference of municipal officials that Sullivan is organizing in the near future. No date has been set yet for the conference.

Reporting bad roads

Also in his news release, Mason said PennDOT is aware of the deterioration that is occurring and is working with the responsible parties to coordinate roadway repairs as fast as possible. If a motorist encounters a sudden and marked change in a state road's condition, please call 1-800 FIX ROAD to report it, he said.

The "responsible parties," Mason explained, are the companies that have taken part in PennDOT's posting and bonding road program, whereby they obtain a permit from PennDOT for their vehicles to travel a road and then post a bond. If the company damages the roads, they are responsible for "facilitating" the repairs through the program, he said.

"The posting and bonding road program is the only avenue that we have to protect the taxpayers' investment in our secondary road system that wasn't built or designed to handle this heavy traffic," he said.

As an example of a road that has been repaired, Mason pointed out that state Route 1001, Clapper Hill Road, in Tuscarora and Stevens townships was reopened to traffic recently after being temporarily closed, except to local traffic, due to severe deterioration. A news release from PennDOT noted that "responsible parties have completed repairs to restore the roadway to a safe and passable condition for the traveling public." This road carries a year-round, 10-ton weight restriction, according to the news release.

Mallory Babcock of Armenia Township said she thought the damage to the roads in western Bradford County was due to a variety of reasons, including traffic from the gas industry and the recent wind turbine project on Armenia Mountain.

"I think the damage we're seeing now is the result of having multiple construction projects going on at the same time, and that would include the gas industry and the wind farm (project).

"Plus, we have frost in the ground, and we still have the gas companies bringing heavy equipment up and down (the mountain). You really can't point the finger at any one group or condition. It's the combination of all it together. That's how I feel about it." She added that Armenia Township's roads were dirt roads to begin with, and, with winter setting in, this put off repairs.

When asked for comment, Matt Riel, general manager with the Armenia Mountain Wind Project, declined to comment for this story.

Gas companies react

Brian Grove, a spokesman for Chesapeake Energy Corp., issued the following statement in response to questions from The Daily Review: "This time of year, with the freeze and thaw cycles, roads are damaged. Natural gas drilling traffic has contributed to the damage. Certainly, we foresaw this when we asked for Road Use and Maintenance Agreements across Bradford and surrounding counties. These agreements were negotiated proactively and we are committed to carrying out our obligations. We are presently and will continue to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and local road supervisors to repair damages caused by our activity."

He continued: "Chesapeake has a history of making significant investments in all of our operating areas in road repair and Bradford County will be no different. We will work collaboratively with officials to repair the roads as weather and ground conditions allow, and as our operations evolve and move around the county. We understand the frustration of people driving Bradford County roads, and that's why we have ten road repair crews working in the county right now. That work will continue and as the weather improves, we expect to make significant gains in our repair schedule."

In addition, Grove said Chesapeake also has a meeting scheduled with PennDOT to discuss a strategy concerning long-term repairs to state roads in Bradford County.

Another gas drilling company, East Resources Inc., has "very little" business in Bradford County and mostly operates in Tioga County, according to Stephen Rhoads, director of External Affairs. According to its Web site, the company operates more than 2,500 producing oil and gas wells in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Colorado and is actively exploring drilling programs in Wyoming. But, when asked for comment, Rhoads was willing to discuss the matter from the gas companies' perspective, noting, "we try to do everything we can to ensure any damage we cause is repaired as quickly as possible."

"Typically, operating companies go into agreements with municipalities and bond their roads and have use agreements to repair as necessary. In many cases, roads are repaired in such a way that they're better than what they were before. There is temporary damage, there is temporary inconvenience; we try to do our best to ensure the damage is kept to a minimum."

"It's very important to us to make sure the roads are accessible and usable. It's in our best interest that we keep them in as best shape as possible. That said, there is occasional damage and we do need to repair it."

Talisman Energy spokesman Mark Scheuerman said, "We work very closely with all the municipalities, we establish road bonds and road use agreements without exception. We take an assessment of the status of the road prior to any use we make of it ... then we return the road to its condition prior to our use."

Road damage in western Bradford County

In western Bradford County, damage is evident on a flat section of Fallbrook Road in Troy Township in several places. Traffic could be seen slowing down as it approached rough sections and driving around them Thursday.

Billy and Babi Tillotson were driving on the road, and they said they were in shock over its condition.

They are moving back to the area after living in Texas for six years. They said they wouldn't live along Fallbrook Road, however, due to its condition.

"I used to be able to do the speed limit on this road, which is 35 mph, and now I'm doing 3 mph and bottoming out," Billy Tillotson said. "If they broke it, they need to fix it."

"We go away for a few years, and 'My Lord,'" Babi Tillotson said.

They were concerned about the road damaging people's cars.

According to Mason, 3.07 miles of Fallbrook is posted, which is the section of the road in Troy Township.

The roads have gotten the attention of local school district officials.

In Canton Area School District, district business manager Mark Jannone said that roads are "pretty bad." However, he added, "I want to see how they are after spring. Some of ours are always bad when the frost starts to heave."

Sue Jackson, transportation director in the Troy Area School District, said bus drivers have expressed their concerns about the road conditions, adding that they're worried about wear and tear on buses.

"There are so many roads in our district that are in so bad shape," she said.

She said that both vans and buses from the district travel Fallbrook Road, and other roads that have her concerned are Madigan Road, Granville Road, and Alba-Windfall Road.

The major concern for her is the safety of the students. She noted that, with rough roads, the bus rides aren't as comfortable, and are bumpier.

"I think when it gets warmer, we may see these roads be worked on. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, that they will be worked on."

Staff writers Eric Hrin and James Loewenstein contributed to this report.