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EGCA's asphalt shortage warning comes true

The warning in a 2004 Engineering & General Contractors Association (EGCA) white paper was prescient: "By 2008, the current mining and hot mixed asphalt operations in North San Diego County will no longer exist."

"The lack of support from the county and the cities to provide affordable and economically viable sites to ... operate asphalt plants leaves a bleak future for the availability of local and affordable aggregates and construction materials," EGCA warned in 2004.

"As a consequence, costs for asphalt used in paving will increase, compounded by much higher trucking costs and more frequent inspector-rejection of materials that will be too old to put into place. The requirement for increased trucking, both of raw mining materials from out of area, and longer distances traveled in the delivery of hot asphalt materials (increasing from 30 miles to as much as 100 miles, one way) will have a potentially significant impact compounding local freeway gridlock and air quality. Limited supplies will put cost pressures on the industry and will make supply issues more common, especially for all but the largest projects. The rest of San Diego County will also be noticeably impacted by this crisis as South County materials are diverted to meet North County needs."

As predicted, the Pala asphalt plant closed in January 2005, pulling approximately 300,000 tons from the North County market.

When Hanson Aggregates' San Marcos plant closes in February 2008, another 400,000 tons a year of supply will be gone and there will be only one remaining asphalt plant in operation north of Miramar: the recently approved Escondido Asphalt facility, which is not capable of supplying the demand in North County.

On Sept. 14, 2005, EGCA public works liaison Dan Fauchier told the Escondido City Council: "Within five years San Diego County is going to be 1.25 million tons of asphalt below the needs we have currently ... The question is: Do you want to have the ability to provide for your own asphalt needs? It won't solve the crisis in North County, but at least the city of Escondido will have begun to provide for its own needs in a very real way."

That night members of the Escondido City Council, on a 5-0 vote, stepped up and solved their own needs. In the words of Escondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler, "If you do not have an asphalt plant close by, you are actually creating more pollution by the truck traffic that has to bring that asphalt for many, many miles ... (soon) cities throughout our county will realize that having a small plant is the way to go."

It takes as much as 200,000 tons of aggregates to build one mile of an eight-lane highway, or 50,000 tons for a simple two-lane street. With TransNet funds, SANDAG and Caltrans are in the early stages of a $3.4 billion traffic mitigation program in San Diego County widening Interstates 15, 5, 52, 8 and 805. Both concrete and asphalt are used in these urgent projects.

The need for approvals of new asphalt facilities in San Diego County (North and South) is now critical. At best, the permitting process takes two years, after suitable land is acquired. There are hopeful signs among public officials in some area cities, but the need will outstrip political will far into the future.

The Engineering & General Contractors Association is actively calling upon local leaders -- both political and community -- to put aside parochialism and step up to the need. Anyone who drives a vehicle, uses a driveway, uses a city street or an area freeway will be affected. And all taxpayers will soon discover that the excellent planning and programming by SANDAG and Caltrans cannot be fulfilled when costs soar due to unnecessary materials shortages. The problem can be solved by the same people who are causing it: us.

EGCA urges responsible citizens to call and write local city and county leaders. Let them know you understand that the crisis is upon us and you expect visionary thinking to keep the San Diego region moving forward on something other than potholes and dirt roads. For more information, contact www.egca.org.

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