Lousy newspaper delivery, telecommunication company hassles and increasing utility costs are constant common public annoyances. But poor highways may be the leading frustration. The Reason Foundation embraces the issue.
Among other public issues it investigates, the Los Angeles-based Libertarian think tank recently released is 24th Annual Highway Report. It analyzes via a varied list of considerations, the best-performing and most-efficient highways systems state-by-state and the worst.
The report details what drivers may think seems obvious.
After years of improvement, overall the nation’s highway systems are deteriorating. California ranks 43rd in performance and cost-effectiveness, one position worse than the previous report.
One-third of the nation’s urban Interstate mileage in poor condition is concentrated in five states: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana and New York.
Baruch Feigenbaum, the lead author of the Annual Highway Report and assistant director of transportation at Reason Foundation, has worked on the report for eight years.
“In looking at the nation’s highway system as a whole, there was a decades-long trend of incremental improvement in some key categories,” he said. “But the overall condition of the highway system has now worsened.
“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.”
In the current report, North Dakota, Virginia and Missouri have the best performing, most cost-efficient state highway systems. New Jersey, Rhode Island and Hawaii have the worst.
Based on data states submit to the federal government, every state is ranked in 13 categories, including traffic fatalities, pavement condition, congestion, spending per mile and administrative costs.
The new report uses state-submitted highway data from 2016. It’s the most recent year with complete figures currently available. Traffic congestion and bridge data from 2017 is also included in the report.
North Dakota ranks first in overall performance and cost-effectiveness rankings of state highway systems for the second straight year. North Dakota’s rural and urban Interstate pavement conditions both rank in the top 10, and the state has kept its per-mile costs down.
Virginia jumped 25 spots in the rankings, from 27th overall to second in performance and cost-effectiveness. Missouri, Maine and Kentucky complete the top five states.
The state highway systems in New Jersey (50th), Alaska (49th), Rhode Island (48th), Hawaii (47th), Massachusetts (46th) and New York (45th) have the worst overall performance and cost-effectiveness.
Despite spending more money per mile than any other state, New Jersey has the worst urban traffic congestion. It also has the country’s worst urban Interstate pavement conditions.
The study finds pavement conditions on urban Interstates and rural Interstates are deteriorating. The percentage of urban Interstate mileage in poor condition increased in 29 states.
The current report also finds the percentage of rural arterial principal roads in poor condition hit the worst levels since 2000. The study’s three traffic fatality categories — overall, urban and rural — all show more fatalities in 2016 than in any year since 2007. Thirty-nine states lowered the percentage of bridges deemed structurally deficient.
With Americans spending an average of 35 hours a year stuck in traffic, traffic congestion levels are about the same as in the previous report. Drivers in New Jersey, New York, California, Georgia and Massachusetts experience the longest delays due to urban traffic congestion in metro regions.
The new report finds states disbursed about $139 billion for state-controlled highways and arterials in 2016, a four-percent decrease from 2015.
Article Last Updated: August 4, 2023.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.