Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The steep climb in gas prices is not only hitting drivers' wallets. It's also smashing holes in transportation department budgets for road repairs.
State and local DOT officials are watching their purchasing power erode with each percentage increase in the cost of diesel, which raises prices for commodities such as steel, concrete, asphalt and stone. One highway project in Dane County, Wisconsin, for instance, is experiencing tens of thousands of dollars in cost overruns as asphalt that cost $295 per ton last year is now $540 per ton.
In Kentucky, commodity price hikes are boosting the cost of road projects by 20 to 35 percent. Since most of the projects are safety- related, the transportation department does not plan to cancel any of them. "You have no other choice but to pay the prices because the work has to get done," says Shaunee Lynch, a DOT spokeswoman.
To save money, many states and localities are patching instead of replacing roads and highways. In addition, DOT officials in many parts of the country say the price increase will affect future plans. They say they are likely to have to cut back on the number of projects they undertake each year.
In Ohio, the transportation department is keeping up with current work but may defer large projects beginning in 2007. Those delays are likely to drive up long-term costs and that would hurt the governor's 10-year, $5 billion Jobs and Progress plan, which was launched in 2003 to create highway construction jobs, ease congestion and improve road safety.