"Very serious and frustrating:" Shortage of cement has contractors worried some projects won't get done

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Building contractors in and around Milwaukee should be busy this time of year -- finishing up projects before winter sets in. It's not a lack of work, but rather, a shortage of cement that's slowing them down.

"This is very serious and frustrating," Milwaukee Department of Public Works Commissioner Ghassan Korban said.

Korban says there are 23 active street and alley projects in the city of Milwaukee.

"We are fairly confident that those projects will be completed," Korban said.

Korban says Hampton Avenue and 27th Street are big priorities for DPW.

"27th is looking a bit more hopeful because the state it`s in, or the status of that project is a little ahead of Hampton," Korban said.

The bottom line is: nothing can get done without cement.

The problem began this past spring. It was wet, and that delayed the start of the construction season in Wisconsin, so companies here that make cement slowed down production. When the weather got better and construction picked up, the supply wasn't there.

Chris Helm has been in the construction trade for years and says this is the worst supply problem he`s ever seen.

"Your orders have to be in ahead of time and everything has to be more on a schedule, real tight schedule," Helm, with CRH Construction said.

On Thursday afternoon, October 30th, they were busy putting the finishing touches on 70 yards of colored concrete that was poured three days ago. The custom job will get done, but Helm says he's afraid others may not.

"I had a job of 110 yards for a driveway and I don`t know if that`ll be able to happen," Helm said.

As for the city roads, the Department of Public Works says it has no choice but to put future projects on hold.

"Just because we think it`s too risky to start a project not knowing what the future holds in term of commitment of the cement supply," Korban said.

Cement contractors predict the price will go up ten percent. A mild winter could help to rebuild a stockpile. Barges are used to bring cement to Wisconsin -- and last year's harsh winter made it difficult for many of those ships to reach the Port of Milwaukee due to ice on Lake Michigan.