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Foundation Releases Road Spending Ratings

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

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South Carolina and South Dakota get top marks in a new report on the cost-effectiveness of highway systems in the 50 states, released by a well-known think tank.

The Reason Foundation’s 22nd Annual Highway Report ranks states based on an index of factors that the group says contribute to the overall cost-effectiveness of a state’s road infrastructure.

Overall Rankings

South Carolina got the No. 1 ranking this year for the first time in more than 20 years, though Reason notes that the state has been in the top ten in the report every year since 2003. South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Maine round out the top five in the report.

South Carolina highway
By Washuotaku - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

South Carolina got the No. 1 ranking in the Reason Foundation Annual Highway Report for the first time in more than 20 years.

Alaska has the dubious distinction of being last on the report; New Jersey, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Massachusetts make up the rest of the bottom five.

The report takes into account a slew of factors, comparing road and bridge work budgets for individual states along with road conditions, congestion and fatality rates, among other measures of infrastructure quality. Rather than a simple rating of where the roads are best and worst, the analysis looks to rate how efficient states are in creating and maintaining infrastructure within a given budget.

This year’s report is based on data provided by states to the Federal Highway Administration in 2013, the most recent year available.

Bridges Improving

Nationwide trends recorded in the report generally indicate positive, if slow, movement in terms of infrastructure quality. The percentage of the nation’s bridges that are deficient has dropped: In 2013, about 20.44 percent of U.S. bridges were classed as deficient, while a year prior, the number was 21.52 percent.

Map: Structurally deficient bridge rankings
Maps: Reason Foundation

While 36 of the 50 states reported a decrease in problem bridges from 2012 to 2013, six states have more than a third of their bridges classed as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

While some accounting factors make direct comparisons hard (the inclusion of “functionally obsolete” bridges differs from state to state), the report notes that overall, 36 of the 50 states reported a decrease in problem bridges from 2012 to 2013.

Six states, though, are called out for having more than a third of their bridges in the category of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete: Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, which was last on the list, with over 50 percent of its bridges falling into those two categories.

Fatalities Down

Reason also reports a slight drop in the overall fatality rate on the nation’s highways in 2013: The country recorded 1.10 fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles in 2013, down 0.03 from the prior year. Total fatalities on the road dropped by about 850 from 2012 to 2013, even as total vehicle-miles increased by about 20 billion during that time.

Overall rankings map

The report ranks states on cost effectiveness, comparing road and bridge work budgets for individual states along with road conditions, congestion and fatality rates, among other measures of infrastructure quality.

The state with the lowest highway fatality rate in 2013 was Massachusetts, with a rate of 0.58 fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled. Recording fatality rates of more than 1.5 were four states: South Carolina, Mississippi, West Virginia and Montana, which recorded 1.90 deaths for every 100 million vehicle-miles.

A low fatality rate doesn’t always line up with other positive performance ratings in the report. Of the four states with the highest fatality rates, all four were in the report’s top ten in terms of low disbursement per state-controlled mile of road. Three were also in the report’s top ten in terms of lowest rate of commute congestion, with only South Carolina (17th) ranking lower.

By contrast, Massachusetts, with its low fatality rate, ranks 45th in terms of commute congestion, and 48th in terms of keeping disbursement rates in check.

Spending Numbers

States disbursed $131.2 billion for state-owned roads in 2013, the report says, a slight drop from 2012 numbers that reflected lower spending in all of the categories studied: maintenance, capital and bridge disbursements, and administrative costs.

The Reason Foundation’s overall ratings for cost-effectiveness is based on a formula that takes into account both disbursements and performance ratings, which, besides deficient bridges, fatalities and urban area congestion, include poor performance miles and narrow lanes on rural other principal arterials (ROPAs).

The foundation notes that because multiple state agencies can be involved in both disbursement and road performance, the study is not meant to evaluate just states’ highway departments, but their overall efficiency in relation to road infrastructure.

About the Report

The Reason Foundation is a policy research organization that “advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles,” according to its website.

The foundation’s Annual Highway Report was authored by senior fellow and former Federal Highway Administration policy analyst David T. Hartgen, Ph.D., P.E.; retired military officer M. Gregory Fields, Ph.D.; and Baruch Feigenbaum, the organization’s assistant director of transportation policy.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Funding; Infrastructure; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Safety; Taxes

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