Rising oil prices mean county’s paying more to pave

Whether it’s fixing a pothole or repaving miles of cul-de-sacs and curvy back roads, sweet, smooth blacktop continues to cost Snohomish County taxpayers more per mile each year.

Repaving a road is running $210,000 a mile this construction season, based on the apparent low bid received this week by the county for summer paving work.

The county expects to pay $72.48 per ton for asphalt, or about 17 percent more per ton than last year.

Since 2003, the cost has increased nearly 88 percent. To help offset the expense, the county teamed up with four cities to spend $5.5 million to pave more than 26 miles this year.

“We’re doing the same amount of lane miles, but it’s costing us more,” county engineer Owen Carter said. “By joining with the cities, we’re getting better bids than if we didn’t have the higher quantities.”

Road planners anticipated the increased price, Carter said, and put more money into this year’s budget. Estimates were within $6,100 of the bids — or a tenth of a percent — so the budget will cover the plan, Carter said.

In all, the county is hiring local asphalt contractors to lay more than 61,000 tons of asphalt this year, including 8,000 tons on behalf of Marysville, Lake Stevens, Monroe and Woodway.

Pavement is made from sand and gravel held together with a black goo called liquid asphalt. Liquid asphalt is distilled from crude oil and constitutes about 5 percent of asphalt paving.

Liquid asphalt used to be easier and cheaper to come by because it was a byproduct after refineries squeezed gasoline out of a barrel of oil, said Tom Gaetz, executive director of the Washington Asphalt Pavement Association. The industry group represents 14 companies, about 95 percent of the asphalt suppliers in the state.

Now, Gaetz said, refineries work harder to get more valuable gasoline out of each barrel of oil, leaving less liquid asphalt.

“It no longer is viewed as a byproduct,” Gaetz said.

Snohomish County isn’t alone in watching asphalt prices rise for major paving projects.

The state paid about $66.63 a ton so far this year in Western Washington. Costs are cheaper in Eastern Washington, about $47.34 a ton.

State-hired crews in Eastern Washington get three times as much paving done per night because they do more paving during the day and there is less traffic to fight.

The state’s budget is limited; at the same time, asphalt and fuel costs keep climbing, said Dave Erickson, assistant state construction engineer for the highway department.

“The price has gone up quite a bit in the last couple years,” Erickson said. “We place fewer tons, pave fewer lane miles of roads, which is making maintaining and keeping the roads in good shape all the more difficult.”

Also, diesel prices average about $4.60 a gallon in the Puget Sound area, according to the AAA auto club.

Higher diesel prices affect the cost of operating heavy equipment such as aggregate crushers, rigs to haul and place and compact asphalt, Erickson said.

“Fuel is a key item,” Erickson said.

Teaming up with the county on paving projects is a great deal for taxpayers, Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall said.

“The paving program allows us to basically get more paved miles, get more bang for the buck,” he said.

When asphalt prices rise, it means less road miles paved, he said.

“Everyone is in the same boat,” Kendall said. “It’s just one of those things.”

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com

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