City wants to build asphalt plant, pave more roads

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After about a decade of purchasing asphalt from a vendor, the Pittsburgh public works department wants to make its own asphalt again with the hope of saving money and adding muscle to the city's street-paving program.

Public works director Rob Kaczorowski said construction of a new plant is an important part of his plan to begin paving 75 to 100 single-lane miles annually, double or triple the numbers from recent years.

The need is great, he said, noting that 80 single-lane miles of primary roads alone -- including stretches of Brighton Road on the North Side, Frankstown Avenue in Homewood, Brownsville Road in Carrick and Chartiers Avenue in Sheraden -- are in dire need of paving.

"We have a lot of catching up to do, and this is the way to do it," Mr. Kaczorowski said.

The plan would involve building a $4 million asphalt plant with funds taken from this year's $11.4 million paving budget. "My goal is to have something in place by September," Mr. Kaczorowski said.

He also wants to increase the amount of paving done by department employees and reduce spending on contractors. Currently, only a small amount of paving and pothole patching is done in-house. He plans to hire John Tortorete, a former city public works supervisor, as a consultant on the project.

Mr. Kaczorowski's boss, city operations director Duane Ashley, supports the plan but said it's too soon to say whether it can be brought to fruition. He said an asphalt plant could require a state permit and he didn't know long it might take to get one. Mr. Ashley also said a site for a plant hasn't been identified.

"There are significant steps that need to be taken," and the city doesn't want to "unfairly raise or heighten expectations," he said.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus, the public works chairman, said he doesn't know many details of Mr. Kaczorowski's plan but he supports the concept.

Mr. Kaczorowski said the city's old asphalt plant in Highland Park was closed about a decade ago and then dismantled amid questions about efficiency. Now, Mr. Kaczorowski and others see inefficiencies in relying on contractors for product and resurfacing work.

For starters, he said, drivers waste time waiting in line at a vendor's plant, which provides asphalt to multiple municipalities. While the product meets state specifications, he added, a better-quality product would be welcome.

"Obviously, we think we can do it better," Mr. Kaczorowski said.

By eliminating the asphalt vendor's profit margin, he said, the city also should be able to realize significant savings by bringing production in-house. But he wasn't willing to estimate the savings.

Street paving -- how much money is allocated and which streets are resurfaced which year -- is a perennially thorny issue. In 2010, the city spent more than $8 million on paving, including about $5.2 million on 98,364 tons of asphalt.

Last year -- an especially lean year -- the city spent about $5.7 million on paving, including about $3.2 million for 60,204 tons of asphalt, according to Mr. Kaczorowski's figures.

In recent years, the number of single-lane miles paved each year has fluctuated between the high 20s and low 30s -- not nearly enough, he said, for a city Pittsburgh's size.

The paving budget jumped to about $11.4 million this year as part of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's plan to accelerate capital investment citywide with an $80 million bond issue. The bond issue follows five years of moderate capital spending with cash on hand.

Mr. Kaczorowski said the higher paving budget, savings generated by in-house asphalt production and increased use of city paving crews eventually could enable him to pave 75 to 100 single-lane miles annually, a schedule that would enable him to resurface every street at least once every 10 years.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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