City of Steamboat Springs public works employee Daryl Kemry rolls fresh asphalt near Lincoln Park on Tuesday. Asphalt shortages are delaying some Routt County road repairs.

Photo by Matt Stensland

City of Steamboat Springs public works employee Daryl Kemry rolls fresh asphalt near Lincoln Park on Tuesday. Asphalt shortages are delaying some Routt County road repairs.

Asphalt shortage affects road projects

County, state road construction costs increase as a result

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— A shortage of asphalt and one of its key ingredients is affecting paving projects in Routt County and across the state.

As a result of the shortage, Routt County commissioners this week approved a $131,000 cost increase to pave sections of Routt County Road 27.

"We don't think the project will be delayed," Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said, "but it's a cost we weren't expecting."

The news of the cost increase comes on the heels of preliminary 2009 county budget estimates that predict a shortfall of more than $3 million.

The current asphalt shortage is a result of two factors, said Tom Peterson, the executive director for the Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association.

The first is that oil refineries are processing light crude petroleum - which produces less asphalt than heavy crude - and some refineries are processing products that are more profitable than asphalt, such as diesel fuel.

The second factor is the unavailability of a polymer that is added to asphalt to make it more flexible and reduce cracking and rutting. According to a news release from the Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association, "the shortage : is due to the closing of two production facilities in Europe, the continued demand for raw materials in China and India and a shortage of butadience, one of the polymer's ingredients."

"(The polymer) is just not available, so we have to go with something similar but more expensive," Mitsch Bush said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation also is feeling the effects of the shortage and announced earlier this week that it is in the process of reviewing 2008 summer highway projects to identify which of the 34 projects will be affected. Priority will be given to projects that are on heavily used routes, significantly damaged areas or those that are in the middle of construction.

Responses could include delaying projects until next year, completing projects partially until additional asphalt can be secured, or using a different pavement material.

There is a 3-mile stretch of Colorado Highway 131 south of Steamboat that CDOT started working on in early June. It's down to one lane as crews work to improve sight distance by lowering hills, improving guardrails and resurfacing the road.

"We won't be moving forward to mill until we have a guarantee that it can be finished," CDOT Spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said of the project that originally was scheduled to start resurfacing in mid-August. CDOT has not determined how or if the project will be affected.

"Contractors are in discussions now with suppliers" to get their hands on asphalt or similar products at decent prices Shanks said. CDOT will know more in the next few weeks as negotiations with suppliers continue.

- To reach Kristi Mohrbacher, call 871-4243 or e-mail kmohrbacher@steamboatpilot.com

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