New report indicates U.S. highway conditions continue to deteriorate

Updated Sep 17, 2019
Photo courtesy of Decatur County Sheriff’s Office – Georgia.Photo courtesy of Decatur County Sheriff’s Office – Georgia.

The Reason Foundation’s 24th Annual Highway Report indicates that the nation’s highway conditions are deteriorating, especially in several states struggling to repair deficient bridges, maintain Interstate pavement, and reduce urban traffic congestion.

“In looking at the nation’s highway system as a whole, there was a decades-long trend of incremental improvement in most key categories, but the overall condition of the highway system has worsened in recent years,” says Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the report and assistant director of transportation at the Reason Foundation, in a press release. “This year we see some improvement on structurally deficient bridges, but pavement conditions on rural and urban highways are declining, the rise in traffic fatalities is worrying, and we aren’t making needed progress on traffic congestion in our major cities.”

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The report ranks each state’s highway system in 13 categories, including traffic fatalities, pavement condition, congestion, spending per mile, administrative costs, and more. This edition uses state-submitted highway data from 2016, the most recent year with complete figures currently available, along with traffic congestion and bridge data from 2017.

North Dakota ranks #1, and Virginia jumped 25 spots to come in at #2. MissouriMaine, and Kentucky round out the top five states. New Jersey (50th)Alaska (49th)Rhode Island (48th)Hawaii (47th), and Massachusetts (46th) and New York (45th) rank at the bottom of the nation in overall performance and cost-effectiveness. Despite spending more money per mile than any other state, New Jersey has the worst urban traffic congestion and among the worst urban Interstate pavement conditions in the country.

The study finds that pavement conditions on urban and rural Interstates are deteriorating, and the percentage of rural arterial principal roads in poor condition is at its worst levels since 2000. In addition, the study’s three traffic fatality categories — overall, urban and rural — all show more fatalities in 2016 than in any year since 2007.

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The most positive news is on bridges, where 39 states lowered the percentage of bridges deemed structurally deficient, but 18 percent or more of bridges remain structurally deficient in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

Traffic congestion is about the same as in the previous report, with Americans spending an average of 35 hours a year stuck in traffic, with drivers in New Jersey, New York, California, Georgia, and Massachusetts experiencing the longest delays.

The report also finds that states spend approximately $139 billion for state-controlled highways and arterials in 2016, a 4 percent decrease from approximately $145 billion spent in 2015.

“Some may point to the slight decrease in overall state highway spending in 2016 as a cause of the lack of improvement in key highway metrics, but 21 states made overall progress in 2016,” Feigenbaum notes in the press release. “Examining the 10-year average of state overall performance data indicates that the national system performance problems are largely concentrated in the bottom 10 states… that are spending a lot but often failing to keep up with traffic congestion and road maintenance. There are also a few very problematic low-population states like Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, and Alaska, which contribute an outsized share of the nation’s structurally deficient bridges, poor pavement conditions, and high administrative costs — money that doesn’t make it to roads.”

New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut spent the most on their highways on a per-mile basis, with each state spending more than $200,000 per mile of highway. In contrast, Missouri, which ranks third overall in performance and cost-effectiveness, did so while spending just $23,534 per mile of highway.