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Repaving plans have hit a bump

The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to repave 20 percent less of the state's roads this year because of rising prices of oil-based asphalt.

That cutback may get even larger. Oil prices continue to climb, but one of the revenue streams intended to help pay for road construction, the state gas tax, remains capped at 29.9 cents per gallon.

In the Charlotte area, crews will widen fewer turn lanes and pave fewer dirt roads. Engineers also are sapping next year's money to finish this year's repaving, meaning cutbacks will hit harder in 2009. Work crews may switch to a work week of four 10-hour days to save truck fuel.

Transportation officials said they could not yet identify specific Charlotte-area projects to be affected, and that Interstate 485 construction will continue as planned.

“We resurface roads every year in every county,” said Jon Nance, director of field operations for the Department of Transportation. “Instead of paving 100 miles, (for example), we're paving 80 miles. We're trying to prioritize the roads as best we can … and looking at what we can do to prolong the life of the roads we can't repave.”

The reduced paving will be felt on shock absorbers in every county. Unlike many states where localities share in the cost for repair and construction of state roads, North Carolina handles all that work through DOT, maintaining more miles of road than any state government except Texas.

The state spent $278 million on repaving last year.

It's difficult to say how many fewer miles will be paved because costs differ by size and type of road. An interstate highway is not only wider than a two-lane road, but the asphalt is poured deeper.

Here's one way to think of it:

It cost about $53,000 to pave one mile of a 20-foot-wide road in December. Today it costs about $64,000.

Asphalt has two parts, and the price of each has increased. The cost of the dry stone and sand continues to rise.

But the real price spike is for the liquid asphalt, the black glue that holds it all together. It's made from crude oil, and the price soared from $400 a ton at the end of 2006 to $500 at the end of last year to about $540 today, Nance said.

North Carolina's gas tax was meant to help compensate for the rise in oil prices. Up until two years ago, the tax was adjusted twice yearly and rose with the price of gas. The idea was that, if gas prices rose, so would asphalt costs, and the state would need more money to pay for repairs and construction.

The General Assembly capped the tax at 29.9 cents a gallon in 2006 under pressure from an anti-gas-tax campaign led by Salisbury lawyer Bill Graham. He used the effort as a launching pad for an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for governor this year.

Another revenue source, the 3 percent highway use tax that is applied to each new car purchase, has flatlined along with auto sales.

Even the cost of getting asphalt to work sites has jumped, because fuel for the trucks now costs more.

The Charlotte area likely won't see the full effect of the cuts until next year, said Barry Moose, the Department of Transportation's division engineer for the Charlotte region. He's completing the repaving contracts awarded for this year, but he's siphoning money from next year's budget to do it.

“For every million dollars in contract work I had to do (this year), I'm now budgeting $1.2 million,” Moose said. “When I do that, I'll have less money available for next year's contract.”

The department's repaving contracts allow for a fluctuation in asphalt prices. That avoids paying a premium on the contract, but it means the state pays more when asphalt prices go up.

In the first four months of the year, the state paid $4 million more than its contracts originally called for because of asphalt prices, and the paving season didn't begin in earnest until March.

The state paid $35.7 million over the original contract costs in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina pushed up oil and gas prices.

“We're on pace to beat our number in 2006, which is kind of scary,” said Wiley Jones, payment construction engineer for the Department of Transportation.

Moose, in the Charlotte area, said he'll be doing more patching and repairing to make roads last longer instead of repaving.

The danger in that, he added, is that “the longer you wait to repave, the more it costs you to repair, and so you can't repave as much.”

The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to repave 20 percent less of the state's roads this year because of rising prices of oil-based asphalt.

That cutback may get even larger. Oil prices continue to climb, but one of the revenue streams intended to help pay for road construction, the state gas tax, remains capped at 29.9 cents per gallon.

In the Charlotte area, crews will widen fewer turn lanes and pave fewer dirt roads. Engineers also are sapping next year's money to finish this year's repaving, meaning cutbacks will hit harder in 2009. Work crews may switch to a work week of four 10-hour days to save truck fuel.

Transportation officials said they could not yet identify specific Charlotte-area projects to be affected, and that Interstate 485 construction will continue as planned.

“We resurface roads every year in every county,” said Jon Nance, director of field operations for the Department of Transportation. “Instead of paving 100 miles, (for example), we're paving 80 miles. We're trying to prioritize the roads as best we can … and looking at what we can do to prolong the life of the roads we can't repave.”

The reduced paving will be felt on shock absorbers in every county. Unlike many states where localities share in the cost for repair and construction of state roads, North Carolina handles all that work through DOT, maintaining more miles of road than any state government except Texas.

The state spent $278 million on repaving last year.

It's difficult to say how many fewer miles will be paved because costs differ by size and type of road. An interstate highway is not only wider than a two-lane road, but the asphalt is poured deeper.

Here's one way to think of it:

It cost about $53,000 to pave one mile of a 20-foot-wide road in December. Today it costs about $64,000.

Asphalt has two parts, and the price of each has increased. The cost of the dry stone and sand continues to rise.

But the real price spike is for the liquid asphalt, the black glue that holds it all together. It's made from crude oil, and the price soared from $400 a ton at the end of 2006 to $500 at the end of last year to about $540 today, Nance said.

North Carolina's gas tax was meant to help compensate for the rise in oil prices. Up until two years ago, the tax was adjusted twice yearly and rose with the price of gas. The idea was that, if gas prices rose, so would asphalt costs, and the state would need more money to pay for repairs and construction.

The General Assembly capped the tax at 29.9 cents a gallon in 2006 under pressure from an anti-gas-tax campaign led by Salisbury lawyer Bill Graham. He used the effort as a launching pad for an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for governor this year.

Another revenue source, the 3 percent highway use tax that is applied to each new car purchase, has flatlined along with auto sales.

Even the cost of getting asphalt to work sites has jumped, because fuel for the trucks now costs more.

The Charlotte area likely won't see the full effect of the cuts until next year, said Barry Moose, the Department of Transportation's division engineer for the Charlotte region. He's completing the repaving contracts awarded for this year, but he's siphoning money from next year's budget to do it.

“For every million dollars in contract work I had to do (this year), I'm now budgeting $1.2 million,” Moose said. “When I do that, I'll have less money available for next year's contract.”

The department's repaving contracts allow for a fluctuation in asphalt prices. That avoids paying a premium on the contract, but it means the state pays more when asphalt prices go up.

In the first four months of the year, the state paid $4 million more than its contracts originally called for because of asphalt prices, and the paving season didn't begin in earnest until March.

The state paid $35.7 million over the original contract costs in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina pushed up oil and gas prices.

“We're on pace to beat our number in 2006, which is kind of scary,” said Wiley Jones, payment construction engineer for the Department of Transportation.

Moose, in the Charlotte area, said he'll be doing more patching and repairing to make roads last longer instead of repaving.

The danger in that, he added, is that “the longer you wait to repave, the more it costs you to repair, and so you can't repave as much.”

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