Annual Study Ranks States on Highway Performance, Overall Cost-Effectiveness
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Annual Study Ranks States on Highway Performance, Overall Cost-Effectiveness

Urban interstate highways in 35 states reach 40 percent congested and 24 percent of US bridges are deficient or functionally obsolete

Los Angeles (July 31, 2008) – In a sign that more and more areas are being impacted by traffic jams and infrastructure problems, 35 states are now reporting that at least 40 percent of their urban interstate highways are congested, up from 31 states the previous year, according to an annual study of the nation’s highways. With urban congestion even hitting South Dakota, the list of states without any clogged interstates is down to just three: Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Drivers in California, Minnesota, and North Carolina are stuck in the nation’s worst traffic – over 70 percent of urban interstate highways in those states qualified as congested. California earned the dubious honor of ‘most congested’ state – 83 percent of its interstates are congested, according to the 17th annual highway study by the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank Eighteen states now report that at least half of their urban interstate highways are congested.

Overall, 50.7 percent of the nation’s urban interstate highways were congested in 2006, a slight 1 percent improvement from 2005, when 51.8 percent were jammed. The statistical improvement is due, at least partly, to many states increasing the declared capacities of their highways. Reason Foundation’s state-by-state rankings of urban traffic congestion can be found here:

Deficient bridges were thrust into the spotlight in August 2007 because of the tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse. Minnesota actually ranks 5th best in the nation, with 13 percent of its bridges deficient. Of the nearly 600,000 highway bridges in the country, 24.1 percent were reported deficient and/or functionally obsolete in 2006, a minor improvement from 2005 when 25.5 were deemed deficient. At the current rate of repair it will take 62 years for today’s deficient bridges to be brought up to date.

In Rhode Island a stunning 53 percent of state’s bridges are deficient or obsolete. New Yorkers (38 percent deficient and obsolete) and Pennsylvanians (39 percent) won’t feel much better about the condition of their bridges. Nevada has the lowest percentage of deficient bridges in the country, 3.9 percent. State-by-state rankings of deficient bridges can be found here:

“Despite the welcome progress we’ve seen this year, there are continuing problems on our roadways that underscore the nation’s infrastructure crisis and should concern our leaders,” said David Hartgen, emeritus professor of transportation studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of the Reason Foundation study. “Fifty percent of our interstates are clogged and a quarter of the nation’s bridges need repair. We can and should be doing more to fix our bridges and improve highway conditions. Big increases in highway construction costs mean states are now getting less impact for each dollar they spend on repairs and improvements. Going forward, cost-effectiveness, prioritizing the most important projects, and limiting bureaucratic costs – money that doesn’t actually improve roads or bridges – becomes more important than ever.”

North Dakota’s state-owned highway system is the nation’s most cost-effective, an honor the state has held since 2001. North Dakota finished first, or tied for first, in five of the report’s 12 categories, including rural interstate condition. Montana jumped from 5th to 2nd in the overall performance and cost-effectiveness rankings. New Mexico continues to show marked improvement. The state ranked 27th in 2000, and was up to 3rd overall in 2006. Wyoming moves up from 7th in 2005 to 4th overall. Kansas rounds out the top five.

New Jersey, which has ranked last every year since 2000, continues to be the nation’s least cost-effective and worst-performing road system. Despite having the nation’s 4th smallest state-owned highway system, New Jersey finished dead last in five of the study’s 12 categories. Several of the least populous states performed very poorly, and make up the rest of the bottom five: Alaska (49th), Rhode Island (48th), Hawaii (47th), and New Hampshire (46th).

Texas, home to the nation’s largest state-controlled highway system, ranked 12th overall in performance and cost-effectiveness. South Carolina, owner of the country’s 5th largest system, ranks 6th overall. Georgia, Ohio, Missouri and Virginia are some of the other top-performing large states.

Alabama showed the largest single-year improvement, going from 43rd to 29th.

In the coming years it will be interesting to watch California’s progress. California ranked 48th in 2004 and was 44th in this edition of the Reason Foundation study. As the state spends billions of dollars in bond money on transportation projects, will it prioritize projects that reduce urban congestion (where the state ranked last) and improve its urban interstate pavement condition (ranked 49th out of 50)? The reports finds, “California’s total disbursements increased about 33 percent from 2005 to 2006, yet its system performance remained essentially unchanged.”

For the third consecutive year, Massachusetts had the safest highways (0.785 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled), while Montana’s were the deadliest for the second straight year (2.364 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled). State-by-state information on highway fatalities can be found here:

The Reason Foundation’s 17th Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems measures the performance of all state-owned roads and highways from 1984 to 2006. The study calculates the effectiveness and performance of each state in 12 different categories, including traffic fatalities, congestion, pavement condition, bridge condition, highway maintenance costs, and administrative costs.

Ranking State Road Systems by Overall Performance

1. North Dakota 26. Arizona
2. Montana 27. Arkansas
3. New Mexico 28. Delaware
4. Wyoming 29. Alabama
5. Kansas 30. Vermont
6. South Carolina 31. Colorado
7. South Dakota 32. Iowa
8. Nebraska 33. Oklahoma
9. Kentucky 34. Illinois
10. Georgia 35. Connecticut
11. Oregon 36. Pennsylvania
12. Texas 37. Maryland
13. Missouri 38. Mississippi
14. Idaho 39. Washington
15. Indiana 40. Louisiana
16. Virginia 41. Florida
17. Ohio 42. Michigan
18. Minnesota 43. Massachusetts
19. Tennessee 44. California
20. Nevada 45. New York
21. Wisconsin 46. New Hampshire
22. Maine 47. Hawaii
23. North Carolina 48. Rhode Island
24. West Virginia 49. Alaska
25. Utah 50. New Jersey

You can see how each state’s ranking compares to last year’s here: A Google map featuring each state’s data is here:

Full Study Online

The Reason Foundation’s 17th Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems (1984-2006), is online at

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Media Contact

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