The city of Charlotte might cut back on the number of streets it resurfaces because of the high cost of asphalt.
Those possible reductions come as the quality of the city's streets is slipping, a consultant recently found.
US Infrastructure spent three months this year rating all city streets from 0 to 100. The average for all city streets is 82, down from 86 in 2006, the last time the survey was conducted. City streets were graded an 88 in 2001 and a 91 in 2000.
“We are in a decline trend that's been going on for several years,” said Layton Lamb, street superintendent with the Charlotte Department of Transportation. (Some streets in Charlotte are the responsibility of the N.C. Department of Transportation and weren't graded in the study.)
Slightly less than 40 percent of the city streets graded by US Infrastructure were considered very good, down from 54 percent three years ago.
The number of streets considered very poor crept up. Problems ranged from potholes to thin “alligator cracking” to the deeper “block cracking.”
Slightly more than 5 percent of the city's streets were in that lowest category. Three years ago, 4.5 percent of streets were rated that poorly. Steve Lander of US Infrastructure said the condition of Charlotte's streets is about average.
Despite the discouraging report, it's becoming more difficult for the city to repair its streets. Oil is used in asphalt, and the price of oil has skyrocketed. In January, it cost $350 for a ton of asphalt. In August, it was $800 a ton, Lamb said.
The city fears it could rise to $1,000 a ton.
To cope, the Charlotte City Council increased the street resurfacing budget by $4.2 million, to $12 million two years ago. In addition, developers must build new residential streets with thicker asphalt, in an attempt to make them last longer.
The city also has levied what it calls a “pavement degradation fee” against developers when they cut city streets for utility work.
The city's transportation department might not upgrade 15 or 20 miles of streets that were slated to be repaved because of the asphalt price increases. In a typical year, the city resurfaces between 100 and 150 miles.
Lamb said his department just can't keep up with the higher costs of asphalt.
“I think it will be four to six years before we see an impact on the decline,” Lamb said.
But if the price of asphalt doesn't go down, Lamb said more streets just won't get repaved.