August 23, 2019

States with worst highway systems find it difficult to improve, report shows

Infrastructure spending and performance data lag in FL, OK, DE, CA, CT, NY, MA, HI, RI, AR, and NJ, Reason Foundation says.

By DC Velocity Staff

The top five slots in an annual study of state highway systems are North Dakota, Virginia, Missouri, Maine, and Kentucky, but the states at the bottom of the heap are finding it difficult to improve, following a third-party analysis of spending and performance data that state highway agencies submit to the federal government.

Each state's overall rating is determined by rankings in 13 categories, including highway expenditures per mile, Interstate and primary road pavement conditions, urbanized area congestion, bridge conditions, and traffic fatality rates, according to the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based research and education organization.

The lowest ranking states in the study were Florida, Oklahoma, Delaware, California, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Arkansas, and—in the 50th and final slot—New Jersey. "A 10-year average of state overall performance data indicates that system performance problems are concentrated in the bottom 10 states. These states are finding it difficult to improve," the group said in its "24th Annual Highway Report," which gathered data about state highway systems in 2016, with congestion and bridge condition data from 2017.

Nationwide, the study authors found that the overall condition of the total system has worsened over the period from 2013 to 2016, highlighted by deteriorating statistics for six of their eight performance measures, including all of the pavement rankings and all three fatality rate rankings.

The solution will require increased infrastructure spending, but study authors Baruch Feigenbaum, M. Gregory Fields, and Spence Purnell found that the amount may not have to be large. "States do not need to engage in a spending bonanza to improve their systems. But there is some evidence that a small increase in spending could yield a significantly better system," they said in the report.

Part of the reason for that imbalance may be that system performance problems in each measured category seem to be concentrated in a few states:

  • Almost a third (31 percent) of the rural Interstate mileage in poor condition is in just three states: Alaska, Colorado, and Washington.
  • A third (33 percent) of the urban Interstate mileage in poor condition is in just five states: Hawaii, Louisiana, Delaware, California, and New York.
  • A significant share (12 percent) of the rural primary mileage in poor condition is in just four states: Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
  • Almost half (45 percent) of the urban arterial primary mileage in poor condition is in just seven states: Rhode Island, California, Massachusetts, Washington, New Jersey, Nebraska, and New York.

The rankings also revealed the locations of the nation's worst traffic jams. Automobile commuters in 10 states spend more than the national average of 35 hours annually stuck in peak-hour traffic congestion: New Jersey, New York, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, Texas, Washington, and Minnesota.

It also showed the most dangerous states for driving, concluding that traffic fatality rates are increasing again—after decades of improvement—and eight states have overall fatality rates of 1.5 per 100 million vehicle-miles travelled or higher: South Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alaska, Louisiana, Arkansas, Montana, and Alabama.

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