Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Less paving keeps towns in the black: Increasing cost of asphalt stunts road upkeep

WATERBURY — High oil prices have made commuting costly, and not just when it comes to filling up the tank. The roads commuters drive on are costing towns more than ever.
An increase in the price of asphalt, a petroleum-based product, is to blame for rising costs.
In Torrington, the paving budget was doubled from last year to $2 million, according to Director of Public Works Jerry Rollett, but the extra money won't go as far as he hoped.
Rollett said with asphalt at $71 a ton, 10 percent fewer roads will be done this year than were originally budgeted. Rollett said he has heard that the price could soon be closer to $78 a ton, which would mean another 10 percent decrease.
Rollett said the city's next round of paving starts at the end of the month.
"In the next two rounds we'll look to do just over five miles of roads," Rollett said. "By the time we do this, with the escalation of asphalt, we will probably have to cut one or two roads."
Zach Light, an estimator at S&S Asphalt Paving in Southbury, said the price of asphalt goes up every couple of days. Light said that since S&S opened for the season in April, the price of asphalt has increased by about $25 a ton.
"The labor costs have stayed the same because otherwise we'd be putting ourselves out of business," Light said.
Light said his company has been spending from $65 to $80 per ton, depending on the grade. An average driveway for a suburban home uses 30 to 40 tons. He said last year at this time the company was putting down about six driveways a day. That number is now down to about two driveways a day.
Light said his company also does work for the towns of Southbury, Woodbury and Middlebury, and that those towns have been doing less paving as well.
Leonard Suzio, president of the Connecticut Asphalt & Aggregate Producers Association, said the price of asphalt has risen with the price of oil.
"The manufacture, transportation and storage are very fuel-intensive," he said. "It has to be heated all along. Once it gets to us we have to keep it heated. The plant expends a good amount of energy."
Suzio said the price of the basic material has risen by 40 percent since last year, and by the end of 2008 may go as much as 50 percent higher than last year.
Barry Berson, Litchfield's director of public works, said the cost of paving projects has more than doubled over the past four or five years. He said the town has been working with the state on planning a project for the past two years, and that the original estimated cost has gone up 60 percent in that time.
In Waterbury, jobs aren't being put off, but Director of Public Works John Lawlor said projects are more expensive. He said the city uses competitive pricing for its projects.
"We're getting the best prices available, but the market is driving up the costs," Lawlor said.
Thomas Crowe, director of public works for Southbury, said the town is experiencing the "trickle down effect" of having less money to spend on other things because of high asphalt prices, but isn't expecting costs to go down anytime soon.

Originally appeared 7/15/2008 in the Republican-American©

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