High oil prices complicate, delay Mo. road projects

Tuesday, September 9, 2008 | 2:19 p.m. CDT; updated 8:21 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 9, 2008

JOPLIN - The rising price of oil hasn't just affected drivers as they fill up at the gas station. It has also affected the roads on which they drive.

With the cost of oil used in asphalt more than doubling in the past year, the state and some cities and counties have had to revise or rebid projects.

Jasper County officials, for example, opened new bids on remaining road projects for 2008 after the company contracted to handle them backed out because of higher oil prices.

Blevins Asphalt Construction, the company that held the county contract, said it couldn't honor earlier prices.

The contractor paving streets for Joplin has held to the original price, but the city's budgets for paving projects next fiscal year has been boosted by $250,000.

Jasper County will be doing fewer miles of road construction for the remainder of the year, based on higher prices in bids that were opened Monday, said Jim Honey, the associate commissioner who oversees county road projects.

Some roads were finished based on the earlier contract, he said, but "we're just going to have to cut back on the numbers for the rest of it."

Officials with Blevins Asphalt Construction and APAC-Missouri said their final costs would be based on index pricing, while the pricing system was not reflected in bids submitted by Swift Construction.

The bid prices are to be analyzed by Clayton Christy, an engineer with Tri-State Engineering who works with the county on road projects.

Christy said the index pricing should help contractors but that bidding "still is a gamble" because prices have gone up so dramatically.

The state started using the index pricing a year ago, said Michael Middleton, district construction and materials engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation's regional office in Joplin. He said the department sets the index each month based on reports of market conditions.

"The contractor has the opportunity to take the index price, which allows them to bid asphalt at the price they can get the oil (used in the asphalt) that specific month," Middleton said. "If the price goes up, we pay more, and they don't have to guess so much what the market is going to do. But if the price goes down, we get the savings."

Even with the allowed fluctuations, Middleton said it's still "difficult for contractors right now."

He said the price per liquid ton of oil used in asphalt has gone up from $300 at the start of the year to $705 in August. But he said the district still has managed to get paving projects completed within budget.

Joplin opened bids just before prices started going up.

APAC-Missouri is completing city projects based on the original bid of asphalt at $37 per ton, said Dan Johnson, a civil engineer in the Public Works Department.

He said projects include $609,000 for resurfacing residential, arterial and collector streets, and $374,000 for paving on a project to widen Connecticut Avenue.

"They're just about done with the street paving," Johnson said. "They've been able to hold to their price, but they want to get done this calendar year, so we're pushing to get Connecticut ready for them."



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