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Study: Nation’s Road Conditions Show Slight Improvement

July 2, 2013

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As Americans hit the road for the Fourth of July holiday, they’ll be driving on slightly smoother roads, crossing fewer deficient bridges and spending less time stuck in traffic jams according to right/libertarian leaning think tank the Reason Foundation and its new Annual Highway Report. 

It found that nationwide there was small progress in every category except for pavement condition on rural arterial roads. These improvements were achieved at a time when per-mile expenditures dropped slightly. Despite receiving stimulus funding from the federal government in 2009, spending on state roads decreased slightly, by 0.6%, in 2009 compared to 2008.

“It’s hard to believe it when you hit a pothole or see a bridge in Washington collapse, but the nation’s roads have been getting better,” said David Hartgen, author of the study and emeritus transportation professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “There are still several states struggling and plenty of problem areas but progress continues to be made.”

Among the states plagued with problems are New Jersey and California. New Jersey spends $1.2 million per mile on its state-controlled roads. That’s nearly twice as much as the $679,000 per mile that the next biggest spending state, California, spends. North Carolina, home to the nation’s largest state highway system, spends $44,000 per mile on its roads. South Carolina spends just $31,000, the lowest per mile rate in the nation. (A complete of state rankings is below)

The study measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-owned roads in 11 categories, including pavement condition on urban and rural Interstates, urban traffic congestion, deficient bridges, unsafe narrow lanes, traffic fatalities, total spending per mile of state roads and administrative costs per mile. The study’s rankings are based on data that states reported to the federal government for 2009, the most recent year with full spending statistics available.

More than 16% of urban Interstate pavement in California and New Jersey is in poor condition. Only Hawaii ranks worse, with 27% of its urban Interstate pavement rated as poor.

Not only are California’s Interstates full of potholes, they are also jammed, with 80% of the state’s urban Interstates are congested. Minnesota has the next highest percentage of gridlocked Interstates, with 78% of urban Interstates deemed congested.

In terms of overall road conditions and cost-effectiveness, North Dakota has the country’s top ranked state-controlled road system, followed by Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico and Montana.

Alaska’s state-controlled road system is the lowest quality and least cost-effective in the nation. Rhode Island ranked 49th, Hawaii slightly better at 48th and California coming in at 47th. New Jersey registered 46th while New York was 45th.

Vermont’s roads showed the most improvement in the nation, improving from 42nd in the previous report to 28th in the new overall rankings. New Hampshire at 27th and Washington at 24th both improved nine spots in the rankings.

Minnesota system plummeted 17 spots in the rankings, from 25th to 42nd and Delaware dropped nine spots to 20th.

Massachusetts had the lowest traffic fatality rate, while Montana had the highest.

Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report 
Overall Performance and Cost Effective Rankings

1. North Dakota 


2. Kansas 


3. Wyoming 


4. New Mexico 


5. Montana 


6. Nebraska 


7. South Carolina 


8. Missouri 


9. South Dakota 


10. Mississippi 


11. Texas 


12. Georgia 


13. Oregon 


14. Kentucky 


15. Virginia 


16. Nevada 


17. Idaho 


18. New Hampshire 


19. North Carolina 


20. Delaware 


21. Tennessee 


22. Indiana 


23. Arizona 


24. Washington 


25. Ohio 


26. Utah 


27. Alabama 


28. Vermont 


29. Maine 


30. Michigan 


31. Wisconsin 


32. West Virginia 


33. Iowa 


34. Illinois 


35. Louisiana 


36. Arkansas 


37. Florida 


38. Oklahoma 


39. Pennsylvania 


40. Maryland 


41. Colorado 


42. Minnesota 


43. Massachusetts 


44. Connecticut 


45. New York 


46. New Jersey


47. California 


48. Hawaii 


49. Rhode Island 


50. Alaska

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