North Dakota ranks best in annual highway conditions report; New Jersey at bottom of list

Road Fading into Sunset
The Reason Foundation’s newly released Annual Highway Report measures the 50 United States in 13 categories, including pavement condition, traffic congestion, fatalities and spending per mile.

LOS ANGELES — North Dakota has the nation’s most cost-effective state-owned road systems, while New Jersey is ranked at the bottom, according to the Reason Foundation’s 25th Annual Highway Report. The report measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-controlled roads in 13 categories, including pavement condition, traffic congestion, fatalities and spending per mile.

According to this year’s report, the general quality and safety of the nation’s highways incrementally improved and spending on state-owned roads increased to a total of $151.8 billion, up 9% from the previous report. The U.S. overall made progress in seven of the reports nine performance-focused categories, including structurally deficient bridges, traffic congestion and fatalities; however, the pavement condition of the nation’s urban Interstate system worsened slightly. More than 25% of the country’s urban Interstate mileage in poor condition was in just three states — California, New York and Wyoming.

In addition, the study showed that drivers in 11 states waste at least 50 hours each year because of traffic congestion. Commuters in the three most-congested states — Delaware, Illinois and Massachusetts — spend more than 100 hours a year sitting in traffic.

Thirty-five out of the 50 states reduced their overall traffic fatality rates. Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey reported the overall lowest fatality rates, while South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arizona had the highest.

In the report’s spending categories, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee reported the lowest expenditures per mile of state-controlled highway, while New Jersey, Massachusetts, Alaska, Delaware and Maryland spent the most per mile of highway.

The condition of the nation’s bridges improved slightly. Of the 613,517 highway bridges reported, 46,771 (7.6%) were rated as structurally deficient. The best rankings go to three states where less than 2% of bridges are structurally deficient — Texas, Nevada, and Arizona; meanwhile, Rhode Island reported 23% of its bridges as structurally deficient.

The Top 10 states in complete highway performance and cost-effectiveness are:

1. North Dakota;
2. Missouri;
3. Kansas;
4. Kentucky;
5. Idaho;
6. South Carolina;
7. Tennessee;
8. Mississippi;
9. Arkansas; and
10. Montana.

States at the bottom of the list are:

41. Maryland;
42. Hawaii;
43. California;
44. New York;
45. Washington;
46. Rhode Island;
47. Massachusetts;
48. Delaware;
49. Alaska; and
50. New Jersey.

Five states made double-digit improvements in overall performance and cost-effectiveness rankings — Arkansas improved from 32nd to ninth overall; Mississippi moved from 25th to eighth; Wisconsin went from 38th to 22nd; South Carolina jumped from 20th to 6th; and Iowa improved from 31st to 20th overall.

“Although it is tempting to ascribe these ratings to geography or population, a more careful review suggests that numerous factors, including terrain, climate, truck traffic volumes, urbanization and congestion, system age, budget priorities, and management and maintenance practices all significantly impact state highway performance,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the report and managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation.

“The states with the three largest highway systems—North Carolina, Texas and Virginia—all rank in the top 21 this year. Meanwhile, states with the smallest amount of mileage to manage, like Hawaii, Rhode Island and New Jersey, are some of the worst-performing states,” he noted. “Prioritizing maintenance, targeting and fixing problem areas, and reducing bottlenecks are among the successful strategies states can use to improve their quality and efficiency.”

The Annual Highway Report is based on spending and performance data submitted by state highway agencies to the federal government for 2018 as well as 2019 urban congestion data from INRIX and bridge condition data from the Better Roads inventory for 2019. To view the entire report, click here.

Highway Report Map
(Courtesy: Reason Foundation)

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