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Gas prices may limit 2023 paving projects

YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning County Engineer Pat Ginnetti says the rising price of gasoline could reduce the amount of road paving and bridge repairs that can be done starting in 2023.

Mahoning County voters said yes to a 0.25 percent sales tax increase in November that will generate about $9 million per year to be used for additional road paving projects and bridge improvements.

Ginnetti said the increased sales tax started to be charged in April and will begin to flow into the county in July — coming too late to fund projects for this year. It will be used to ramp up projects in 2023, but if gasoline prices remain as high in 2023 as they are now, the money will not go as far as hoped because asphalt and plastics are made from petroleum.

“As the price of gas and oil goes up, obviously the price of asphalt goes up,” Ginnetti said.

“What we’re seeing is a typical mile (of paving) costs between $100,000 and $110,000 to pave a two-lane 20-foot-wide county road,” he said. “Now we’re starting to see numbers over $150,000 per mile and climbing.”

Furthermore, as the price of fuel keeps going up, the cost of everything is going up with it, including trucking costs, he said.

“Plastic pipe is petroleum-based, so that’s driving the price of plastic pipe up” he said.

Plastic pipe is used in road projects. Ginnetti said he’s hearing there are also some delays in getting plastic pipe.

CEMENT

There are also other types of shortages right now, such as Portland cement, which is important to road and bridge projects, Ginnetti said.

“We have concrete box culverts, concrete pipe on some of our projects, and they’re saying we may not be able to get it,” he said.

Worker shortages are being blamed for shortages of Portland cement, he said. If there is a shortage of Portland cement in the coming months, there could be delays in manufacturing the cement products used on roads and bridges.

“A lot of the bridge decks are concrete. The bridge abutments are concrete, so that could pose a major problem,” he said. “It’s starting to domino.”

“Hopefully the price of gas goes back down by (2023) and we can get back to a normal plan. But right now (asphalt) is almost double what it was last year. In some areas, it is double,” he said.

“If the fuel prices stay this high next year, that’s going to drastically reduce what we are able to do with the (sales tax) money,” he said. “My concern is for next year. If we get the projected $9 million from the sales tax, it’s not going to go as far if the cost is $5 a gallon vs. $2.50 a gallon.

“We used $75 a ton last year to estimate (the price of asphalt). Already we are seeing numbers well over $100 a ton for asphalt this year,” Ginnetti said. “That’s a major impact, and it cuts down on how far that $9 million will go.”

BUT, WHY?

Ginnetti said he’s not sure the explanations that are being given for why gas prices have risen so much even make sense.

“I don’t now why the price continues to climb. Initially I thought it was because of the Ukraine war, but I don’t know if that is it. It’s causing a lot of other issues. It sounds like there is worker shortage to boot, so it’s costing more and it’s taking longer, so that’s really starting to affect the bottom line of our projects.”

Of the $9 million the sales tax will provide annually, $4 million will go to county roads, $4 million to township roads and $1 million to county-owned infrastructure, primarily bridges, in cities and villages. The county isn’t permitted to pave roads in cities and villages, Ginnetti said.

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