Craig Although road repairs on Colorado Highway 13 north of Craig have been a state priority for several years, it may be delayed until later in the year or until 2009.
CDOT planned to widen and resurface Highway 13 from the Wyoming border south for five miles and install safety improvements - such as widening shoulders and building taller guardrails - for another 12 miles south.
The project started in May and was originally scheduled to last until mid-October, weather permitting.
However, the Colorado Department of Transportation is not immune to oil prices, said Nancy Shanks, CDOT's Western Slope public relations director.
There is a national shortage of usable asphalt because the oil base needed to hold it together is getting expensive and scarce, she said.
State officials do not believe the shortage will last long, but it could delay several projects around the state slated to finish this summer, including the Highway 13 project.
"Contractors are still negotiating with suppliers, finding out what kind of materials are available and at what price," Shanks said. "We want to make sure those are guaranteed before we go about milling up the road surface."
Officials expect the shortage to be short term, but 34 statewide projects may be delayed, a CDOT news release states.
For each project that hits a delay, CDOT could either delay work until 2009, extend the project's completion time, use a different pavement material or partially complete the project and finish it when more asphalt is available.
Shanks said there should be a decision on what projects around the state will be delayed in the next two weeks.
"A decision needs to be made and contractors need to know what is happening so they can plan their business," she said. "Negotiations and discussions are under way each day."
CDOT's problem is not because it can't afford asphalt, Shanks said, rather because refineries are following profits.
"The oil that is used for asphalt is literally the bottom of the barrel," she said. "Some refineries, not all of them I don't think, but some, can further refine that oil that's left and create diesel fuel, which is more profitable."
Other factors compound the problem, too, Shanks added.
The U.S. dollar is devalued which makes exporting oil more attractive to businesses and the global demand is expanding at the same time.
Shanks also said there have not been any new domestic refineries built since 1977, and existing ones are operating at capacity and installing technology that allows them to refine diesel from low-grade oil.
"Is it a shortage or is it a shift in where this oil is going?" Shanks said. "Who knows?"
Colorado's main supplier of asphalt/concrete oil, Oklahoma-based Sem Materials, has said it will have more asphalt-ready oil by fall or early winter, Shanks said.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he understands the state's dilemma.
"When there's a shortage, there's a shortage," he said. "I don't know what they could do about that."
But, he will not be as agreeable if CDOT opts to complete projects on the Front Range at the expense of the Western Slope.
Shanks said a paving project on Colorado Highway 131 south of Steamboat Springs will be delayed until 2009.
"That'd bother me," Mathers said. "We've had (Highway) 13 on the books for so stinking long now. It's been on the books and then off the books, and now it's about to get done. Of course, I understand with the traffic and everything they have on roads like Colfax Avenue in Denver, if you have potholes you have to fix them."
It's a complicated problem, he said, and the real solution - transportation funding - doesn't seem to be an option.
"Monies just aren't there," Mathers said. "I don't know where the money is going to come from."
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org