There’s a cement shortage, too? Yes. And it halted road repairs in northern Idaho.

“The world is in an interesting place, so people are doing things in irregular ways,” said a cement sales manager.

An Idaho country road (Image by kavanilla from Pixabay).

Repairs to a section of Idaho Highway 13 near Grangeville have stalled because of a cement shortage related to a Canadian plant outage and weather, Idaho Transportation Department officials said.

The road work near Harpster Grade began in May. Repairs involve pulling up the asphalt surface of six miles of Highway 13, mixing it with cement, then reapplying the mixture to form a stronger base on the road. Workers are also making drainage improvements and replacing 50 culverts along the roadway, along with signage upgrades. In an April press release, Schacher called the changes “desperately needed.”

The work includes the resurfacing of 5.5 miles of road from Mount Idaho Grade Road to the top of Harpster Grade at Dewey Saddle Road (Screenshot).

The department announced Monday that work would pause, and the cement supplier — LafargeHolcim — told Idaho Transportation Department engineer Joe Schacher the soonest they would receive more cement would be June 28. Schacher said he put out the announcement about work pausing because he didn’t want the public to see no work happening for weeks without an explanation.

“They said it was a combination of weather, a plant outage and trucker availability,” Schacher said.

Eric Anderson, LafargeHolcim’s district sales manager for the Pacific coast of the United States, said the North Central Idaho project is supplied by a terminal in Spokane, Washington, that receives its cement from a plant in Canada. That plant had a recent maintenance outage that lasted one week.

“That was probably the largest contributing cause,” Anderson said of the supply issue. “But then again, a lot of my competitors as well are having some operational challenges. … The construction industry is very, very busy across the Pacific coast, so cement is getting pulled in a lot of different directions.”

Issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused some truckers across the region to pull supply from unusual areas and different routes than normal, he added, which has contributed to the unavailability of transportation. 

“The world is in an interesting place, so people are doing things in irregular ways,” Anderson said.

When Schacher called LafargeHolcim for an update on the situation on Tuesday, he said a limited supply of cement could become available to the crew as soon as next week. Depending on the length of delays, construction on the highway could be completed by mid-August. Before the hold-up, work had been scheduled to end by mid-July.

All lanes of Highway 13 will remain open until work can resume, according to the department, and drivers will drive on a milled and gravel surface at a reduced speed.

Jake Melder, spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department, said the department does not keep track of material supplies by project, but he suspects there is high demand for concrete with the Treasure Valley’s housing boom. Builders in the Boise area have reported their own difficulties obtaining materials, including lumber, steel plates and enough workers.

“We’re probably seeing a pretty big pull on the demand side,” he said.

Melder added the department does not anticipate the same types of shortages in the coming months, when more Idaho Transportation Department construction projects are expected to begin.

“We’ve got a lot of construction planned this summer, and we really don’t think what we saw here on the Highway 13 project is indicative of a problem overall,” he said. “The way our supply lines are treated, we’re confident our projects throughout the state are going to receive the materials they need.”