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Asphalt putting holes in repair budgets, Mass. towns say

Missy Ryan and Kay Lazar, Boston Globe
Drivers may cringe when they pull up to the pumps this summer to fill up their cars, but highway officials are sharing the pain.

Towns across the state are likely to spend a lot more in the coming year to pave and repair public roads as the price of asphalt, which like gasoline is made from crude oil, continues to climb.

“It isn’t a pretty picture,” said Harold Brown, Bolton’s public works director. A decade ago, Brown paid about $20 for a ton of asphalt concrete, or “hot top,” as it’s known in the business.

Today, Brown pays $50.24 a ton. Because his budget is limited, Brown has to focus on repairing the busiest roads. The road in front of the average resident’s house will be repaved only once every nine years.

Road repair costs are climbing at the same time that cities and towns across the state are already crying out for increased state aid, saying they need help to pay for soaring energy and health care costs.
(25 June 2006)
Another report of increasing asphalt prices. Many more reports have come in from across the country. I haven’t seen any article about this in the national media.

I (AF) wondered aloud a couple of weeks ago why, with the influx of heavy oils, that asphalt prices should be increasing so rapidly. Asphalt industy correspondent TG wrote: “With the advent of Heavy Oil refining, coker’s have become common. They are now competing with the asphalt market. Asphalt now must compete with fuel where before it was, a byproduct of refinerys. Even at high prices asphalt is still by far, the best value for pavement and concrete is one of the most energy intensive products made.”

Further, a article explains:

Asphalt prices have risen for two main reasons: the price of crude oil, the feedstock for asphalt, is topping $60 and $70 per barrel; and new rules from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which took effect for refineries on June 1, have squeezed asphalt supplies, say asphalt producers and buyers. Refineries must reduce the amount of sulfur allowed in diesel and gasoline products; sulfur has been linked with acid rain…

While liquid asphalt makes up just 5 percent of the steaming, black, hot-mix asphalt that crews pour on city streets and highways, the cost of mining, heating and transporting the stones in the mix mirrors the increase in the price of crude oil and diesel fuel.

“It takes fuel to run the loaders and the generator and the trucks. It’s a trickle-down effect,” said Rob Mangone, immediate past president of Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association.

-BA and AF

The new commuter belt

Sean Coughlan, BBC News Magazine
Fed up with over-priced cities and overcrowded trains? The new breed of commuters are going to fly into work from their homes in Spain and eastern Europe, claims a trendspotting report.
When you think of the commuter belt around London you don’t immediately think of Barcelona, Marrakech and Tallinn.

But a future-gazing report suggests that we could see a new type of commuting – where large numbers of people work in the UK but live overseas.

High house prices, cheap flights, flexible working hours and e-mail and the internet making it easier to work from home are all set to combine to create a new breed of long-distance commuter.

By 2016, there will be 1.5 million people working in the United Kingdom but living overseas, using Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted as commuter terminals – predicts a report from the Future Forum, set up by travel firm Thomson.

So instead of grinding into work on packed commuter trains, people will be looking for a better quality of life in accessible, more affordable overseas cities, working in jobs where they don’t have to be in the office each morning.

There are already some people pioneering this way of working. Carrie Frais earns her living as a television news presenter in London, but finds it better value to live in Barcelona, using budget airlines for her international commuting.

…But for anyone planning their new home in a charming French village or on the Mediterranean, there could be clouds on the horizon. Hikes in oil prices, taxes on aviation fuel and environmental pressures could threaten budget airlines
(18 July 2006)
(Silent scream…) -BA

Truckers feel the pinch

AMHERST Independent trucker Bill Dowe winced as he filled his dump truck full of diesel fuel Tuesday.

“I get a bit of a break because I buy my fuel in bulk, but even then it still hurts because the price just keeps going up and up,” Mr. Dowe said. “And it just isn’t the cost of fuelling my truck that hurts. It’s also fuelling my other equipment like the dozer, backhoe and loader. Every time I fuel up it eats into my bottom line.”…

Long-haul truckers belonging to the Atlantic Province’s Trucking Association aren’t feeling the effects at the pumps as much as their independent peers because “the majority of them buy their fuel on the futures market and have had the price locked in. They don’t go to the pumps to get their fuel,” the association’s executive director Peter Nelson said.

For those independent owner-operators fuel makes up about 75 per cent of their operating expenses, which means “they don’t have much room to make a profit,” Joanne Ritchie, the Ottawa-based executive director of the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada, said in a telephone interview.
(19 July 2006)

Tories are starting to clear their clutter of inheritance

(UK regrets privatizing its rail service)
Simon Jenkins, Guardian
Conservative proposals to atone for the great 1990s railway disaster will restore credibility, because they are right
At last the Conservative party has admitted that its railway privatisation was a mistake. The sinner has repented, albeit 15 years too late. The cost in underperformance, delay, waste and subsidy has been incalculable and unaccountable. In Britain, when you commit a fraud costing thousands you go to prison. When you bring a great industry to its knees, costing billions through incompetence, you get a job in a City bank. That is where those responsible for rail privatisation were ensconced… I hope the banks are counting their spoons.

Within seven years the railway was costing the taxpayer three times what it had cost before de-nationalisation (up from £1.3bn to £3.7bn). The historians Terry Gourvish and Christian Wolmar have charted the subsequent shambles as probably the worst case of Whitehall mismanagement of a British industry since 1945 (a competitive contest). In the 1980s fares covered 76% of rail costs, last year 42%. The government has restructured the industry three times, so it is renationalised in all but name, operating a myriad complex Whitehall sub-contracts. Virgin’s east coast route, profitable under British Rail, runs on a subsidy of £400m a year, half what the whole of BR cost in 1989. The operators recently demanded yet more subsidy on the grounds that they expected to carry 30% more passengers in 10 years’ time. Surely that should mean less subsidy.

When old BR executives gather at reunions the talk is always the same. What sort of railway could they have given Britain with a third bigger market, rising rail fares, access to private capital markets and four times the old level of subsidy? These were not men opposed to privatisation. They merely regarded the 1993 Act as stupid. They knew that creating a separate track company would destroy management discipline, unleash infrastructure costs and proliferate litigation and regulation. Their railway had its shortcomings, but it was the most cost-effective in Europe. Their eyes mist over at the gold-plated service they could have run with the quantities of public money available today.

…When the railway was owned by the state, the state could stay relatively hands-off. When it was privatised, state regulation became neurotic. Leadership was supplanted with regulation, and management with buckpassing and litigation. … oversight burgeoned to 1,000 officials and as many so-called consultants. Such regulation has since gone berserk. The railway is like a restaurant in which the kitchen is run by a different company from the dining room, while a lawyer controls the swing doors.
(19 July 2006)