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Asphalt costs soar, communities rethink paving projects

| Thursday, July 17, 2008

The rising cost of oil-based asphalt has forced tiny Aspinwall to rethink its summer street repair program.

"It'll be more than spot patching, but not much," said Edward Warchol, manager of the borough that measures less than a square mile.

The cost of the liquid binder, made from crude oil that holds a mix of sand and gravel together to make asphalt, has almost doubled since last year, going from $329 a ton to $603 a ton, according to the Pennsylvania Asphalt Pavement Association.

"It's not going to stop. No one has control over this. It's what the market will bear," said Ronald Cominsky, the group's executive director, who called the situation the worst he has seen in his 34 years in the business.

In addition to asphalt, the cost of just about everything made with petroleum is rising, officials said.

"It's going to change the way we think," said Zelienople borough Manager Don Pepe.

Cheswick dropped plans to resurface one block in the borough this summer when the $15,000 to $20,000 cost of the project more than doubled, said borough Manager Andrew Bock.

But not all municipalities are scaling back their paving projects.

Pittsburgh plans to pave 51 miles of streets this summer, a 30 percent increase from last year's 39 miles. Details on paying for the extra work are being worked out, the mayor's office said.

Franklin Park is continuing with plans to pave six miles of road, and might include three other roads, if time permits.

The borough has budgeted $900,000 for the project, and will tap into a reserve fund if necessary, said Ambrose Rocca, borough manager.

"We're fortunate we have the resources," he said. "Our goal is to complete a minimum of six roads."

Some smaller communities might try to pool their buying power. Other municipalities have shelved major construction or maintenance projects altogether and will do only minor repair work this year, said Elam Herr, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors.

State road projects also have stalled, said state Rep. Joe Markosek, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

"There's no doubt that a problem is on the horizon. The pot is only so big," the Monroeville Democrat said.

Municipal organizations have pleaded with the Legislature to increase liquid fuels tax money used by smaller communities to pay for road repairs, but there's been no move to change the funding formula, Herr said.

Lawmakers said the state faces the same financial problems, and is delaying some road projects to put more money toward bridge repairs.

"A number of us want to see liquid fuels increase, but where do we get those dollars?" asked state Rep. Joe Petrarca, D-Vandergrift, secretary of the transportation committee.

"In the transportation industry, everybody is looking for additional dollars," he said.

Mt. Lebanon will spend more than $1 million on street reconstruction and $400,000 for resurfacing this year, but officials said the road repair dollars aren't stretching as far.

"We're not getting as much for the dollars as recently as last year," Manager Stephen Feller said.

More petroleum-related budget straining will come later this year when snow-removal season gets under way.

Municipal leaders have been told to expect an increase in the price of road salt, and the increases in the cost of diesel fuel for trucks show no sign of slowing.

"Unfortunately, we're not out of the cost increase gouge. ... Anything that has to do with fossil fuels, and you've got a problem," Pepe said. Additional Information:

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&#149 Money hangs up crucial Route 228 project.

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