Asphalt Costs May Affect Tallahassee's Airport

Rising asphalt costs have engineers at Tallahassee Regional Airport crossing their fingers when it comes to building a new 450,000-square-foot aircraft parking apron, officials said Thursday.

"You go out and and ask people about the going rate (for asphalt) and throw in a contingency factor and hope you're close," said Mike Clow, capital program administrator for the airport as he discussed putting together a bid proposal for the project.

The new commercial apron will cost about $7.5 million and will primarily serve FedEx and DHL Worldwide, two commercial cargo carriers.

Clow said the contract was going to be bid in a way he hoped would make allowances for the increase in asphalt prices, but added any increase in the contract price would not be known until bids were received.

Asphalt prices have jumped from $48.50 a ton last fall to $65 a ton in May, and there is no way of knowing what they will be when the construction on the new apron starts later this year, Clow said.

Asphalt is one of the byproducts of crude oil, which has seen prices jump more than $15 a barrel since the first of the year.

August crude delivery prices closed at a record-high $61.28 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Wednesday.

Assistant Airport Director Phil Inglese said asphalt prices have climbed significantly since crude prices started climbing from about $30 a barrel early last year.

Airport officials are putting the finishing touches on a $1.45 million, 45,000-square-foot parking apron near Flightline Group Inc. that is about the size of a football field and primarily serves private aircraft, Clow said.

"Commercial aircraft will only go there if they need maintenance," Clow said.

Both aprons are part of the 1996 airport master plan, he said.

The area also can be used to store planes moved from other parts of the state because of hurricanes.

Clow said last year, so many planes were flown in from around the state when four hurricanes struck that aircraft were parked on parts of airport taxiways.

The larger apron, located east of the main terminal, will replace a smaller one that now serves commercial cargo flights, Clow said.

FedEx is scheduled to start building a new facility later this year that will use the cargo apron, he said.

FedEx has two to three flights into and out of Tallahassee daily. DHL is expected to start regular flights later this year.

Asphalt is "one of the main expenses" in constructing the apron, Clow said. A 6-inch layer of asphalt will be poured on top of a 16-inch layer of limerock that has been placed over a 3-foot base of stabilized material.

About 95 percent of the project will be paid for from a Federal Aviation Administration grant, with the Florida Department of Transportation and the airport improvement fund paying the remainder, Clow said.

While the uncertainty about asphalt prices affects contracts, Clow said the good news is the new commercial apron is the last big project on tap at the airport for a couple of years.

But airport officials are going to have to keep dealing with the asphalt price issue because, as Clow pointed out, "everything except the main terminal apron is asphalt" at the airport.