Harlingen street repair bids higher than budget

HARLINGEN — After months of waiting, rising asphalt prices helped drive construction bids $300,000 to $1.2 million over the city’s budget as officials work to determine if they can afford to keep a 1.6-mile stretch of Commerce in their annual street paving project.

At City Hall, officials Tuesday opened six bids ranging from $2.7 million to $3.6 million while working with a $2.4 million budget in which they factored a 25-percent increase in asphalt prices, Assistant City Manager Craig Cook said.

“That’s a pretty good grouping,” he said, referring to the bids. “All the bids are within a million dollars.”

Now, officials are reviewing the bids to pick the contractor determined to be the low bidder.

“It will take us a few days to come up with the apparent low bidder,” Cook said.

Rising asphalt prices drive up costs

As part of the city’s $2.4 million street budget, officials factored in a 25-percent increase in asphalt prices stemming from the supply chain crisis.

“We accounted for it in our estimate and our estimate’s not too far off,” Cook said.

Asphalt prices account for about a third of a street project’s overall cost, he said.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic’s economic slowdown led to production cuts in oil-based products such as asphalt, driving up demand while spurring rising costs.

Mulling paving Commerce

As part of the city’s 2021-2022 street project, officials have been planning to pave a total of nearly eight miles of streets, or about 41,000 feet, Cook said.

Now, they are trying to determine if they can afford paving Commerce Street from Fair Park Boulevard to Tyler Avenue at a cost of slightly less than $400,000, he said.

Cook said officials are considering dipping into the city’s $54.2 million general fund budget to pave the 1.6-mile stretch of one of the city’s major streets.

“It sounds like we can get there,” he said. “We can always add general fund money to make the award.”

San Benito pushing ahead

Earlier this month, San Benito city commissioners awarded Frontera Materials the winning bid for hot mix, or asphalt, showing its price had climbed to $89.79 a ton, up from about $80 last year, interim Public Works Director Anibal Garcia said.

Despite the increase, Mayor Rick Guerra said officials are planning to pave as many streets as they can afford.

“We’re going to do our best to finish up what we’ve got on the list and just move forward as much as we can,” he said.

Now, days of steady rain are helping to dig the streets’ potholes bigger, Guerra said.

“With this rain, we’re going to start hearing it,” he said, referring to residents’ calls for street repairs.

Small cities struggle funding street repairs

As part of the city’s new $15.8 million general fund budget, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa is pulling $500,000 from the city’s $11 million unassigned funds account to finance a $1.5 million paving project, one of the city’s biggest street programs.

Working with a low tax base and a tight $15.8 million general fund budget, Guerra said officials are considering requesting lawmakers help the city land grant money to help fund street repairs.

“We have to be very careful — 70- to 80-percent low-income and retired,” he said, referring to the city’s population. “We have to find other means.”

Across the Rio Grande Valley, many smaller cities are struggling to keep up with rising street paving costs, Guerra said.

“It hit smaller towns, not the bigger towns,” he said. “Most small cities are having the same problem — the infrastructure. They’re in the same boat we’re in. They lack the budget to finance streets and infrastructure.”

Big job

This year, officials are considering paving inside the city’s industrial park, where decades of neglect and heavy truck traffic have deeply scarred its network of streets.

“We’re trying to see if we can get the industrial park,” Guerra said. “That’s something we’re looking at. Can we do one (street)? The industrial park is a crucial area. We have to bring it in. We have to attract businesses.”