Pierce County News: Liquid asphalt shortage cancels road projects

A sudden and severe shortage of liquid asphalt has reduced 2008 planned chipsealing on Pierce County roads from about 70 lane miles to 22, according to Pierce County public works officials. The asphalt product became unavailable from any local source at any price, due to a sudden halt in manufacturing at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes. Tesoro was the primary industry supplier for Albina Asphalt Products, the sole supplier for Pierce County as well as Clallam, Jefferson and Lewis counties. Albina informed the counties of the situation on July 21. No other regional sources or suppliers are available.

Nearly all of Pierce County’s 3,100 lane miles of roads are made of asphalt and require preservation with asphalt based materials. Available alternatives to liquid asphalt include recycled asphalt and sealer made from recycled rubber tires, although these products cannot be directly substituted in the chipsealing process. Road maintenance crews will be able to use the recycled products for surface sealing, crack filling and pavement patching.

“We are evaluating all road maintenance and preservation options at this point” said Pierce County Road Operations manager Bruce Wagner. “The production of liquid asphalt has become less profitable than other crude oil products like gasoline and diesel fuel, so they stopped making it. We have to do more with less the rest of this year.”

Wagner pointed out that costs for various asphalt products have risen as much as 300 percent in the last four years, but it would be even more costly to stop preserving county roads and allow them to deteriorate. It costs 10 to 15 times more to replace a road than to maintain the pavement on a regular basis. Current plans have been revised to deliver as much of the pavement program as possible for the rest of this year, but many levels of service will have to be reduced in order to stay with the established budget.