FLORIDA - Rising Gas Prices Could Put Street Projects on Hold, Potentially Delaying Some Gov. Projects

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Title: Rising gas prices could put street projects on hold

By MARK SCHLUEB Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH - Drivers are already feeling the effects of sky-high gas prices on their wallets, but they may start feeling it beneath their wheels, too.

Rising crude oil prices have pushed the cost of some petroleum-based construction materials to unprecedented highs, putting the pinch on contractors and potentially delaying some government projects.

Asphalt, which is used to resurface potholed roads and build new ones, has doubled in cost since fuel prices started shooting up in November.

"We were paying around $80 a ton a couple of months ago. Now it's $160 a ton," said Tommy Durrance, whose company - Halifax Paving - performs many of the region's government road projects. That increase means a single dump truck load of asphalt costs about $1,680 more than it did just four months ago.

Paving contractors are feeling the pinch nationwide, according to an industry trade group.

"Gas prices are up everywhere, and petroleum is a key ingredient in asphalt cement," said Jay Hanson, vice president of government affairs for the National Asphalt Pavement Association in Lanham, Md.

"Certainly it's going to affect the amount of paving that's being done," he said.

That means taxpayers will have to pay more to get the job done, and homeowners may have to put up with dirt ruts or crumbling streets longer than expected.

Daytona Beach officials won't finalize their next list of street resurfacing projects until September, but already have an eye on fuel costs. Unless prices come down, the city will probably have to cut some streets from the list until the following year.

"If things haven't improved by then, it will definitely hurt us," Daytona Beach Public Works Director Stan Lemke said. "We have X amount of dollars for resurfacing, and if costs stay high, that means those dollars won't go as far."

Two weeks ago, Volusia County officials announced ambitious plans to pave 15 miles of road a year for the next five years. On Wednesday, Road and Bridge Director George Flack said that goal might have to be adjusted if prices don't drop.

"Instead of a five-year program, it might be a six-year program or a seven-year program," he said.

Taxpayers may take the biggest hit on Florida Department of Transportation projects, at least in the short term. During the 1970s energy crisis, DOT began checking asphalt prices monthly and allowing contractors to adjust their bids accordingly. So the cost of state road projects could rise even if a contract has already been signed.

Some budget analysts with area cities worry that the high price of oil might impact more than just road-paving projects. Underground water and sewer pipes are made of PVC pipe, the same material used in home sprinkler systems, and PVC pipe is petroleum-based. Industry insiders say it's too early to say whether the cost of utility pipe will rise as sharply as asphalt.

"Around 60 percent of the feed stock for PVC is ethylene, which comes from petroleum," said Jeff Terry, director of industry affairs for the Vinyl Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based trade group. "So it certainly would make sense that it could lead to a cost increase." ) 2000 News-Journal Corp. . news-journalonline.com



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