The sky-high price of oil is hurting more than commuters’ wallets.
Now it’s affecting the roads they drive on.
Because petroleum is a key component of asphalt, the price for the paving material has soared. In the last year, raw asphalt has gone up about 60 percent, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. Hot mixed asphalt has gone up at least 25 percent.
Prices are so high that some towns are cutting planned road projects. Others are thinking about it.
The state DOT put off $130 million in road and bridge projects last December, in part because of higher costs. As asphalt prices continue to rise – and budgets don’t – officials say they may have to re-evaluate projects again, prioritizing which roads get help and which don’t.
“There comes a point when something would have to give,” said spokesman Herb Thomson.
Hot mixed asphalt has gone from at least $36 a ton last year to $45 this year, he said. A ton of asphalt can fill about a dozen potholes, according to experts.
The DOT needs 500,000 tons of asphalt to resurface more than 800 miles of road. And that doesn’t include major construction projects.
In Auburn, Public Works Director Bob Belz describes rising prices in one word.
“Murder,” he said.
Auburn sets aside more than $2 million for road projects. Expecting a 12 percent increase in costs, the city reduced planned paving by a tenth.
State officials have told Belz to expect an even bigger price jump, he said. With projects going out to bid now, he is concerned.
“There’s really no more money to be had,” he said.
In Lewiston, paving bids have already gone out. Like Belz, Lewiston Public Works Director Paul Boudreau doesn’t expect to get good news back.
Not only have asphalt prices skyrocketed, Boudreau said, but so has the cost of fuel needed to run mixers, equipment and vehicles.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” he said. “The price of fuel goes up and it affects everything.”
Boudreau isn’t sure what his city will do to deal with rising prices. But he knows it’ll have to do something.
It’s a refrain some paving companies are hearing more and more. And like the state DOT and public works departments, they are concerned about the future.
R.C. and Son Paving in Lewiston works with residential, commercial and municipal clients. One client has already told the paving company that it’s cutting its projects in half, according to Mike Cloutier, vice president of operations.
“They’re going to do less with more,” he said.
He expects others will soon follow. That means less work for his company.
And rougher roads for commuters.