According to the Reason Foundation’s 17th Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems, six of seven key performance indicators that measure total highway performance improved from 2005 to 2006 and that was thanks to 2005 federal highway legislation that provided new dollars for roads, bridges and transit systems.
The study calculated the performance and effectiveness of each state’s roads and bridges by analyzing 12 different factors including traffic fatalities, congestion, pavement condition, bridge condition, highway maintenance costs and administrative costs, the Reason Foundation said.
While there have been many positive developments, the report said that there are still many aspects of highway safety that need to be improved upon. “Despite welcome progress, the study highlights continuing problems,” the report said. “Just under one-quarter of all bridges remain deficient; 50 percent of urban interstates remain congested; accident rates are stubbornly high; and substantial urban interstate mileage remains in poor condition. The recent sharp increases in highway construction costs mean that fewer repairs can be made from the same dollars.”
In general, however, the report indicates infrastructure appears to be improving, as the percentage of both urban interstates and rural primary roads in poor condition decreased from the previous year. The percentage of bridges rated deficient, fatality rates, narrow rural lanes, and urban interstate congestion improved as well.
Traffic decreased slightly in 2006, as 50.7% of urban interstate highways were congested in 2006, down from 51.8% in 2005, the Reason Foundation said. However, 35 states reported at least 40% of their interstates are congested, up from 31, and only three states—Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming--reported no clogged highways. The worst traffic was reported in California, Minnesota and North Carolina, where over 70% of highways qualified as congested.
According to the Reason Foundation, highway repairs should be done earlier rather than later. “States should strive to implement policies that emphasize the treatment of problems early in the life cycle, which can reduce costs and prevent system deterioration,” the report stated. “Delayed or deferred maintenance often reduces short-term expenditures, but allows conditions to worsen and can increase costs later.”
The report also gives details on individual state performance. North Dakota was named the most cost-effective state for the sixth year in a row, the Reason Foundation said, followed by Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming and Kansas. New Jersey finished in last place for the seventh consecutive year, continuing its reign as the least cost-effective and worst performing road system, according to the Reason Foundation. Making up the rest of the bottom five were Alaska, Rhode Island, Hawaii and New Hampshire.
Larger states, in general, performed better than smaller ones. “Some states with large state-owned highway systems have high ratings (South Carolina 6th, Georgia 10th),” the report stated. “The two states with the smallest state-owned highway systems are actually at the bottom of the overall rankings (Hawaii 47th, Rhode Island 48th). New Jersey, which ranks last in overall performance again, has the fourth smallest system. By contrast, Texas has the largest state highway system and ranks 12th overall.”
The highest risers in the rankings from last year are Alabama, which went from 43rd to 29th; Nebraska, which moved from 19th to 8th; Delaware, which went from 40th to 28th; and North Carolina, which rose from 31st to 23rd.The states that lost the most ground in the rankings were Mississippi, which fell from 25th to 38th; New Hampshire, which went from 34th to 46th; Nevada, which fell from 9th to 20th; and Louisiana, which dropped from 30th to 40th.