- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

High oil prices are taking the blame for fewer road repairs being completed across the country, including the District.

D.C. officials say they are planning fewer projects because rising oil prices have increased the cost of asphalt and paving supplies, including diesel fuel for dump trucks and steamrollers.

“We’ve lowered our expectations,” said Bill Rice, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation. “We’ve seen it coming, so we’re doing less.”

Mr. Rice said the department’s lowered expectations likely will last until oil prices decline.

Crude oil prices are hovering near $60 per barrel, almost double what a barrel of oil cost two years ago. Engineering News Record, an industry publication, reported in April that the 20-city national average price for liquid asphalt, a derivative of crude oil, had risen almost 13 percent from a year earlier to about $189 per ton.

Highway engineers said costs are increasing for other materials as well, including the No. 2 oil used to heat the asphalt so it can be mixed with sand or stone. Even that sand and stone costs more, mainly because of the high energy costs of processing them.

Mr. Rice said paving prices have soared 10 percent to 30 percent over the past year. The department could not say exactly how much work was reduced as a result.

About 18 months ago, when oil prices began rising rapidly, D.C. transportation officials signed contracts with construction companies for projects scheduled to start now. It would cost a lot more to write those contracts today, Mr. Rice said.

The full effect of rising prices will not be known until Congress passes a major transportation spending bill, probably by the end of the month. States then will know how much federal funding they will receive.

For now, Maryland and Virginia roads are being repaved on schedule.

Maryland officials have not seen big cost increases and have not cut back on paving projects, said Kellie Boulware, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Virginia’s road repair bills have increased, but Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Ryan Hall said the state has more to spend on road construction this year than last — including $45 million for Northern Virginia — thus hasn’t had to cut back its repaving schedule.

Other areas of the country aren’t so fortunate.

Illinois has cut road projects, leaving contractors scrambling for work with local governments, said Kankakee County engineer Jim Piekarczyk.

More contractors are bidding on fewer jobs, but the cost savings for local governments have largely been offset by rising fuel costs, Mr. Piekarczyk said.

Phil Anderson of Exclusive Paving in Fairbanks, Alaska, said the state had been unusually slow to award contracts on one small job on which his company had bid. The refinery that provides his asphalt is only five miles away, he said, but the price for asphalt had risen in the past year from $185 to $305 per ton.

Vermont increased its paving budget this year by about 20 percent to $40 million, but the state will not be paving 20 percent more road.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Dawn Terrill, state transportation secretary. “We’re only going to be able to maintain the volume of work we had been doing.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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