El Paso County residents wondering about the delay in fixing potholes in their neighborhood may have to wait even longer, public works officials said, as the county reckons with an asphalt shortage that has delayed projects and pitted contractors against each other.
On Thursday, county public works crews were able to pick up about a third of the asphalt they needed for the day. The day before, they didn’t get any asphalt.
“We’ve had the first significant impact of the shortage of asphalt this week," said Kevin Mastin, executive director of El Paso County's Department of Public Works. "Many of the potholes we would have hoped to have filled before the weekend we’re unable to do simply because our local suppliers do not have asphalt available for us."
The reason for the shortage, Mastin said, was oil — specifically a lack thereof.
Oil plays a significant role in making asphalt, but due to a decrease in nationwide production, it hasn’t been available on the market enough to meet the demands of local asphalt suppliers, causing supply shortages across the board.
“When oil production goes down, all of these businesses still have a demand for oil and the by-products of oil,” Mastin said. “So it’s a lot of people competing for the same thing, and that’s creating stress and strain everywhere in the economy.”
El Paso County’s public works department, which runs parallel to road construction efforts carried out in Colorado Springs, covers over 1,100 miles of paved roads. To maintain that pavement, the department uses asphalt and several other oil-based construction materials.
Because public and private contractors compete with each other for resources like asphalt, which only exacerbates demand for supplies, Mastin said the county may have to pay higher premiums for asphalt, which could affect the county’s budget.
“Any project you see anywhere that involves asphalt — whether it’s a small company, whether it’s a municipality, whoever it is — there’s a demand for that material,” Mastin said.
Most of the repairs that the county has found itself struggling to complete were over potholes, which Mastin said have significantly increased in number this year, further swelling demand for asphalt.
Several factors have contributed to the increase in potholes county roads have seen this year, but Mastin most cited weather-related causes, like days of record-breaking heat and an uptick in snowfall.
Roads in Colorado Springs have also faced delays in road construction projects as a result of the asphalt shortage. Last week, Colorado Springs Utilities said the delay in reopening Garden of the Gods Road after a water main break closed it down was caused in part by uncertainty over where supplies would be coming from.
County public works officials don’t yet have an estimate on how long the shortage will last, because they’re monitoring market availability of supplies on a day-to-day basis. While they continue to scrounge up the asphalt they can, they’ll continue chipping away at the list of repair projects they have.
In the meantime, the department is working with engineers to find temporary options to fill potholes, such as using gravel, and asked that people affected by potholes continue to bear with the department.
“For people that have been waiting for potholes to be repaired — please just be patient. We care about your roads, we care about driving safely, we care about your vehicles,” Mastin said. “We simply just do not have the amount of materials that we need right now to stay ahead of the pothole demand that we have.”