Driving along parts of Pangburn Hollow road in Forward Township is an exercise in precision steering.
The residential Allegheny County road that runs to EQT’s Oliver West gas well is gone in several places, the only pavement left a yellow-lined strip in the middle.
“There literally is no road to drive on the whole right side,” said Jaqueline Webb, who lives on Pangburn, about 400 yards from the EQT well. “In the last two months that road isn’t even drivable.”
Pangburn Hollow has been in disrepair for years. The road is a patchwork of asphalt, islands of blacktop sticking up from layers of past pavings. Drilling truck traffic has made it worse, neighbors say. Township officials have lobbied Allegheny County to fix it, EQT says they’ve offered to help pay too, but still the road waits.
The county has received more than $3.6 million in impact fees that gas companies are required to pay local governments, but none of that has filtered down to Pangburn Hollow. Township officials say the county has been relatively unresponsive to requests.
“The county has kind of turned its back on that road,” said Tom DeRosa, chairman of the township supervisors.
But the county says it is working on a reconstruction plan. A design has not been finalized and there is no cost estimate yet, but the road should be fixed by 2016, said county Public Works Director Stephen G. Shanley.
In the queue of county roads in need of repair, Pangburn hasn’t risen to the top, Shanley said.
“The county has over 408 miles of roads and the condition of the road and the amount of traffic are determinates of when a road gets paved,” he said in an email. “While the condition is poor, the money received to pave roads has been focused on other roads.”
Road repairs have been government focus in communities with gas wells across Western Pennsylvania, where impact fee dollars are used to prevent or fix deterioration. Mon Valley municipal officials have said they plan to use impact fee money to fix roads affected by drilling.
Each gas well in the Marcellus Shale causes $5,000 to $10,000 in damage to Pennsylvania roadways, according to a study by Rand Corp. The estimate is based on data on the distribution of well activity and roadway type in the state and the estimated number of heavy truck trips.
No impact fees go toward paving in Allegheny County; its program is financed by bond money and liquid fuels funds, Shanley said.
Pangburn Hollow road was last paved in 2001 and the county has spent $2.1 million repairing bridges on it. There are no records of potholes fixed on the road, but Shanley says the county routinely fixes areas of roads that are in poor shape. Residents on Pangburn say they haven’t seen county help in years.
The road’s reconstruction will be based on how EQT plans to use it in the future and the county is working with the company on the design and plans to share costs, he said. Over the last two years, EQT has spent $200,000 filling potholes and doing other maintenance on the road and has offered to pay for more, said Linda Robertson, a spokeswoman for the company.
“We told them we’re ready to do more with what we can with replacing asphalt, with replacing stone,” Robertson said.
County Councilman Bob Macey, who represents Forward, and lives in West Mifflin, said at a public meeting in April the road would be resurfaced when the weather was better. Seven months later he says county commissioners, staff and township officials are meeting next week to discuss it.
“Everybody’s been patient … now it’s time to cut bait, we need to get this thing done,” he said. “This is one of my very most important projects as far as I’m concerned right now.”
But weather may delay repairs as winter settles in for the next few months.
“It’s not the best time of the year to be working with asphalt, we may be on hold on a few things until Spring,” Robertson said.
More than a dozen houses line Pangburn Hollow from Penn Avenue as it leads to EQT’s well.
Howard Flemming lives across the street from Oliver West, in the same spot on Pangburn Hollow for the last 71 years. He’s watched the road and the promises from elected officials deteriorate.
“They basically seem like they keep dragging their feet about it,” he said.
DeRosa says it’s a matter of location. Forward’s out of the way, sitting on the southernmost tip of Allegheny County.
“We’re treated like second class citizens in Forward Township,” DeRosa said. “The people down there shouldn’t have to live with that road.”