Policy Study

Iowa Ranks 31st in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Iowa’s best rankings are in urbanized area congestion, administrative disbursements per mile and urban fatality rate.

Iowa’s highway system ranks 31st in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a 16-spot decrease from the previous report, where Iowa ranked 15th overall, as rural arterial pavement condition worsened and the percentage of structurally deficient bridges increased. Iowa’s previous ranking (using 2015 data) may have been an aberration as several years ago it ranked 40th (using 2013 data).

In safety and performance categories, Iowa ranks 27th in overall fatality rate, 49th in structurally deficient bridges, 3rd in traffic congestion, 36th in urban Interstate pavement condition and 33rd in rural Interstate pavement condition.

On spending, Iowa ranks 20th in total spending per mile and 29th in capital and bridge costs per mile.

“To improve in the rankings, Iowa needs to reduce its structurally deficient bridges and improve its rural arterial pavement condition. The state is in the bottom 10 for its structurally deficient bridges and rural arterial pavement condition. Compared to neighboring states, the report finds Iowa’s overall highway performance is worse than Illinois (ranks 28th), Missouri (ranks 3rd) and Minnesota (ranks 22nd),” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and assistant director of transportation at Reason Foundation. “Iowa is doing better than a comparable state such as Wisconsin (ranks 38th) but worse than a comparable state like Nebraska (ranks 15th).”

Iowa’s best rankings are in urbanized area congestion (3rd) and administrative disbursements per mile (15th).

Iowa’s worst rankings are in structurally deficient bridges (49th) and rural arterial pavement condition (43rd).

Iowa’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 31st largest highway system in the country.

Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-controlled highways in 13 categories, including pavement condition, traffic congestion, structurally deficient bridges, traffic fatalities, and spending (capital, maintenance, administrative, overall) per mile.

The Annual Highway Report is based on spending and performance data submitted by state highway agencies to the federal government for 2016 as well as urban congestion data from INRIX and bridge condition data from the Better Roads inventory for 2017. For more details on the calculation of each of the 13 performance measures used in the report, as well as the overall performance measure, please refer to the appendix in the main report. The report’s dataset includes Interstate, federal and state roads but not county or local roads. All rankings are based on performance measures that are ratios rather than absolute values: the financial measures are disbursements per mile, the fatality rate is fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles of travel, the urban congestion measure is the annual delay per auto commuter, and the others are percentages. For example, the state ranking 1st in structurally deficient bridges has the smallest percentage of structurally deficient bridges, not the smallest number of structurally deficient bridges.