Cost bumps slow road projects

Prices of asphalt, steel, concrete and labor have jumped, meaning some must be delayed or cut back.

Published September 25, 2006

Wildly fluctuating oil prices have induced gas pump gasps all year, but most consumers don’t realize oil prices have major implications where the rubber meets the road, too.

Asphalt is a petroleum-based product and its soaring price, along with shortages and high prices for concrete, steel, and labor, is delaying construction projects or has taken them off the table for the foreseeable future.

The bottom line is that consumers already paying high prices for fuel will burn a lot more of it while stuck in traffic jams for more years to come than expected.

Widening   of Interstate 275 in Tampa from the Howard Frankland Bridge to the Hillsborough River? Not going to happen anytime soon.
An overpass on U.S. 19 at Enterprise Road in Pinellas County? The money for it is being shifted elsewhere.

In Pasco County, highway construction has gotten so expensive that commissioners are considering a measure that could more than triple highway impact fees on new houses, adding as much as $13,000 to the price.

“There are a lot of factors converging at once: material costs, labor shortages and the duration of bigger projects,” said Adam Perez, interstate program manager for the Florida Department of Transportation district that covers Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.

“With prices rising like they have been, contractors are having a difficult time getting quotes from vendors four, five and six years down the road,” Perez said. “When you have unknowns of that nature, the contractors build them into their price.”

One example of the impact of these price increases hit Tampa International Airport with bids to rebuild two taxiways. Asphalt, budgeted at $103.50 a ton, came in at $315.35 . Econocrete, a base course, budgeted at $18 a square yard, came in at $46.50. And Portland cement, budgeted at $85.47 a square yard, came in at $107.37.

Those same price spikes are responsible for the spiraling cost of road building.

So the improvements to I-275 from the Frankland to the Hillsborough River, budgeted for $250-million, received a low bid of $350-million.
Stunned and stumped, DOT officials rejected the bid, pulled the project off the table and are reconfiguring it as three separate projects to be done one at a time. The first would not begin construction for a year.

Construction, which should have started already and been finished in three years, now might not be done until spring 2013, “provided we get the money,” said agency spokeswoman Marian Scorza.

Pinellas County residents, whose north-south travel is eased every time a new overpass on U.S. 19 unclogs a snarled major intersection, will have to wait for the promised improvement at Enterprise Road in the Countryside area.

Faced with needing that overpass and two others farther south, DOT opted to do what it could afford, and the overpasses at 110th and 118th Avenues got the nod and the money. Improvements there, which will begin in November, will improve  the flow on the Bryan Dairy Road link to I-275.

But it won’t do anything for mid county residents west of U.S. 19.

“This isn’t just a problem in this area. It’s worldwide,” said Sandy Kelley, director of construction administration for Pinellas County. “We’ll be looking at doing fewer projects in the future, though nothing currently under construction will be affected.”
Kelley said decisions on what might be delayed have yet to be made.

There is some better news for the long-awaited widening of Ulmerton Road in Pinellas, a DOT job.

Some construction is under way at the west and east ends of the road. And a third project will begin on time next April running from about 49th Street to a point west of U.S. 19. But other phases of that program will not be scheduled for some time, according to DOT spokeswoman Scorza.

In Hillsborough County, “we have a multibillion-dollar backlog of work that we can’t get to as quickly as we wanted,” said Tom Fass, head of projects management for the county Public Works Department.

Expenses have forced the department to get the approval from county commissioners to spend money now that had been earmarked for work out to 2016 — 10 years into the future.

“Having to go back and find funds has slowed us down some,” Fass said. Some of the major projects that have been affected are several of the area’s worst roads, Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Boyette Road and Race Track Road.

“They’ve had significant cost increases, and schedules have slipped,” said Ned Baier, transportation manager in the county’s planning department. “We’re still widening segments that should have been completed, and a lack of money is a big part of the reason.”

Projects that a few years ago would have been done at the same time have been broken into phases, said Leigh Ann Pyron, a county engineering manager,

Improvements have been made to one phase of Boyette with another phase due to be advertised for bids next month. Race Track has one phase under construction and a second phase is being advertised.

Bruce B. Downs is still in the design and permitting phase, and plans for construction are uncertain.

“You have to put the costs in perspective,” said Baier. “Road building these days is incredibly expensive, yes, and as a result, there seems to be a growing sentiment for public transportation. Those costs are huge, too. But in all cases there are great community benefits, and that’s the bottom line.”