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Idaho road construction costs increase with inflation

One project in Ada County saw a 130% increase due to the use of asphalt.
Credit: Brian Myrick / Idaho Press

IDAHO, USA — This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

Inflation is pushing the costs of road and transportation projects higher, sometimes significantly so, state and county planning officials said.

The impact can be seen in Ada and Canyon counties.

“Costs are going up tremendously,” said Toni Tisdale, principal planner of the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho.

COMPASS plans long-term for Ada and Canyon counties’ transportation projects and has seen inflation affecting budgets since last fall.

“It’s just kind of a moving target right now because things are changing so fast with material costs, staff costs,” Tisdale said. “Everything is just very uncertain.”

For example, a project on Highway 20/26 from Interstate 84 to Middleton Road in Canyon County that Tisdale described as a “safe” project, still needed an additional $7 million over the original $53 million cost, a 13% increase.

Another project in Ada County saw a 130% increase primarily due to the use of asphalt.

“It was getting potholes really easily and it did not hold up, so they decided to make the asphalt thicker. They didn’t make any other scope-type changes to that project,” Tisdale said.

Inflation factors made the cost of that project go up “tremendously,” she said.

As of now, projects in both counties have seen only slight delays due to inflation, with an increase in federal and state funding being enough to cover additional costs.

“We are being able to cover these increases,” Tisdale said. “But it would be a lot better if that money can go further rather than covering cost increases.”

Highway Safety Manager John Tomlinson said the Idaho Department of Transportation has seen the impact of inflation for about a year. Costs of rebar, fuel and asphalt have all increased, making budgeting a more difficult task.

“What we’re doing is looking forward, looking at prospects that are into the future,” Tomlinson said. “Every year we reevaluate our transportation department board, looking at the projects that are in that year, and then the upcoming several years.”

Despite the rising costs, the department has not had to stop any construction projects.

“That would be kind of a last resort,” Tomlinson said. “All these contingency plans, all these opportunities to save for a rainy day. … Those are all to avoid having to stop projects.”

Chris Hopper, district engineer at the Canyon Highway District, has seen an increase in inflation over the past two to three years.

“Prior to that, we have seen a fairly consistent annual cost of inflation,” he said.

Passed in 2021, House Bill 362 utilized sales tax to increase funding for Idaho transportation. The additional funds from this bill were meant to be a surplus to begin additional projects, Hopper said. Instead, the department has been using the surplus to counter rising inflation costs.

Hopper said the district has not seen a large project, such as building a new intersection, in years. The plan was to utilize the surplus to propose new projects, but Hopper anticipates seeing only half of the larger project proposals coming to fruition.

“These projects will cost significantly more than we planned for,” he said.

The surplus may not contribute as much to projects as planned, but maintenance has not been sidelined in the Canyon Highway District.

The district’s 2023 fiscal year is seeing a 100% increase, doubling its budget to accommodate inflation. Hopper does not believe spending will necessarily increase as much, but the budget is meant to provide a cushion for the 100% increase in fuel costs.

The budget also includes 33% increased costs for culvert and bridge projects. Asphalt and paint costs will also see similar increases.

“We’re going to continue to do the projects that we can,” Hopper said. “But, it’s going to reduce the number of projects we’re able to do in proportion to the rising costs.”

Dyan Bevins, capital projects manager at the Ada County Highway District, said the district has been seeing construction bids at a higher price than budgeted for.

“We rarely ever hit 100% accurate on our budgeting,” Bevins said. “But this year is the one year that’s probably a little bit higher than we’ve seen before.”

Anything related to fuel has been touched by inflation with increased costs. Bevins said the district is in the process of setting the 2023 budget with inflation considered.

“It hasn’t delayed any projects so far. We haven’t had to cancel any projects,” Bevins said. “We have been able to explore the additional cost through budget adjustments that we do twice a year.”

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