April 01--An unrelenting winter that demanded near-constant salting and plowing has left local governments with a new challenge: how to patch and pave miles of roads with depleted budgets and a high need for asphalt.
Municipalities in the region will have to retool plans, moving local money into their road salt and repair budgets, which typically are funded by liquid fuels money from the state.
"You spend more on salt, and you have to come up with the buy for asphalt," said Mike Volpe, director of public works for Hempfield's 300 miles of roads.
Hempfield spent $500,000 of its $700,000 salt budget but will have to save the remaining $200,000 to buy salt for November and December, Volpe said.
"We've got plenty of roads to fix," he said. "The roads are worse than average. We've been seeing a lot of blowout patches because of the big thaw."
David Heilman, president of Hei-Way LLC, which supplies asphalt to municipalities in five states, said the demand is "off the charts." He said his crew is keeping up by working longer hours and weekends.
A high level of moisture in the ground before a series of freeze-thaw cycles in November and December "really weakened the infrastructure in Pennsylvania and the Northeast even before the really bad weather hit,"Heilman said.
Pittsburgh streets sustained so much damage that the city embarked on a third "pothole blitz" last week, instead of the usual one, said Guy Costa, chief operating officer.
"We spent a lot more -- probably spent 25 percent more -- this year on rock salt than we typically do, so we have less for potholes," Costa said. "We will transfer money from other line items for that."
He said the city purchases asphalt under a statewide contract negotiated by PennDOT but prices change monthly based on the cost of oil. Beginning Tuesday, the city will pay $43 per ton for binder, a base material used in resurfacing streets, and $54 per ton for wearing surface, a thinner, smoother top coat also used to fix potholes.
"The vendor we have has done a pretty good job of supplying us asphalt," Costa said.
But asphalt supplies ebb and flow nationally.
A shortage in 2008 led road projects from New York to Alaska to be delayed or completed at as high as triple the budgeted cost; it was largely blamed on rising oil prices and a shortage of a chemical used to mix asphalt.
Some areas of New Jersey already were running short in early March, when asphalt producers were exhausting daily supplies by midday.
So far, the state hasn't had trouble getting asphalt to repair its nearly 40,000 miles of road, said Rich Kirkpatrick, a PennDOT spokesman.
PennDOT has used 125 percent more patching material to fix potholes this winter compared to last -- 17.6 million tons compared to 7.8 million -- and spent about $3.8 million more than last year, he said.
Kirkpatrick said that, despite additional costs this winter, PennDOT is in a good financial position to complete road and bridge projects with the new transportation funding law enacted last fall.
"On an average, it wasn't alarmingly worse this year," said Beth Mitchell, a procurement and inventory specialist for the Pennsylvania Turnpike. "We definitely have holes, but it's not 'oh, my gosh, we have them everywhere.' "
Mitchell said the commission had fully repaved about 100 miles of the toll road last year, and those portions stood up to the winter weather better than older sections.
In McKeesport, public works director Steve Kondrosky hopes that asphalt supplies don't run low; his city used triple the usual amount of cold-patch asphalt this winter, or nearly 70 tons, for repairs to its 105 miles of road. The city recently ran out, he said.
McKeesport's supplier, Hanson Aggregates in Adamsburg, was slated to open last week, about a week earlier than usual, he said. Hanson declined to comment.
"Once they (Hanson) start up, I hope we're good to go" for the summer, Kondrosky said.
Vince Tutino, president of New Galilee-based Lindy Paving, said he doesn't anticipate a shortage this year based on his stockpiles and arrangements with quarries.
"I think we'll be fine with what we think the market will need in our area," said Tutino, whose company supplies PennDOT, Pittsburgh and municipalities in Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.
"Over the last three years, the requirements (from clients) have diminished. I think supplies for aggregate and asphalt will be adequate," he said.
Latrobe Public Works Director Joseph Bush said he believes that city roads are "a little worse" this spring than last year because of the harsher winter and a reduced paving program during the past few years. "I think things are catching up on us," he said.
The city, which maintains 35 miles of streets, plus alleys, spent $4,500 on asphalt material for patching last year, which was less than the $6,000 budgeted.
Bush said he has budgeted $7,000 because of the increased cost of a "seasonal mix" of patching material that is suited to the colder temperatures -- priced at $89.28 per ton from Heilman Pavement Specialties Inc. of Sarver, a sister company of Hei-Way LLC.
Staff writers Joe Napsha and Rich Gazarik contributed to this report. Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].
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