Soaring costs leave Wyoming roads the worst in 20 years

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Oil prices have increased road-building costs as well as transportation costs, and Wyoming blames them for its roads being in their worst condition in 20 years. Twenty-seven percent of Wyoming’s highway miles are in poor condition, the highest percentage since the state began collecting the data. For the first time, fewer than half the state’s highway miles are rated in good or excellent condition.

The downward trend started in 2001, when rising construction costs and flat or shrinking tax revenues made road maintenance more difficult, said Rick Harvey, state materials engineer of the Wyoming Department of Transportation. “Increased wear on our pavements from heavier traffic and big increases in truck traffic on I-80 and highways in the energy boom areas, coupled with the soaring cost of asphalt and other materials, have prevented us from keeping up with all the work needed,” Harvey said. “We can identify when a highway needs work to extend the life of the pavement, but if we don’t have the money to do the work at that time, the future cost to repair it is going to be four to eight times higher.”

Since the year began, the cost of oil used to make asphalt has increased from $250 a ton to $510 a ton, and contractors are having difficulty finding suppliers, said Del McOmie, the state’s chief engineer. Recently, U.S. 20/26 paving near Casper had to be postponed because the contractor was unable to get the asphalt oil needed to finish the job. Road construction costs more than doubled from 1998 through 2005, and 2006 inflation is “off the charts,” said Kevin Hibbard, the state DOT’s budget officer.

Earlier this summer, Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, warned: “Get used to higher materials cost inflation.” Simonson commented after the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its producer price index for May, which showed a continued pattern of material cost increases. Construction materials will continue to outstrip the overall inflation rate, Simonson said.