Policy Study

California Ranks 45th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

California’s highway system ranks 45th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway

Report by Reason Foundation. This is a two-spot decrease from 43rd in the previous report.

California ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in six categories. The state does not rank higher than average (25th) in any category. Put simply, the state does many things poorly and nothing well. California’s per mile spending ($206,924) is three times that of Texas ($75,153). And what is California receiving for that high spending? It’s not smooth roads. On rural Interstates, 3.05% of pavement is in poor condition while in Texas the percentage is 0.75. On urban Interstates 8.08% of pavement is in poor condition while in Texas the percentage is 3.43.

In safety and performance categories, California ranks 25th in overall fatality rate, 25th in structurally deficient bridges, 43rd in traffic congestion, 44th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 40th in rural Interstate pavement condition.

On spending, California spends $206,924 per state-controlled mile of highway. It ranks 44th in total spending per mile and 41st in capital and bridge costs per mile.

California’s best rankings are in structurally deficient bridges (25th) and overall fatality rate (25th).

California’s worst rankings are in urban arterial pavement condition (49th) and maintenance disbursements per mile (47th).

California’s drivers waste 14.75 hours a year in traffic congestion, ranking 43rd in the nation.

California’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 9th largest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the report’s overall rankings, California needs its high spending to translate into better system quality. For example, the state is in the bottom 10 in three of the spending categories yet also in the bottom 10 in three of the pavement categories. The state also needs to find a way to decrease its traffic congestion somewhat,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “While it may be challenging for California to reduce its spending, if the state could improve its pavement quality to the national average it would move the up in the overall rankings substantially. As it is, the state has the worst of both worlds: high spending and poor roadways.”

Additional Analysis

Compared to nearby states, California’s overall highway performance is worse than Nevada (ranks 20th), Oregon (ranks 25th), and Arizona (ranks 29th).

California ranks behind some comparable states, like Texas (ranks 16th) and ahead of others such as New York (ranks 46th).

While costs in California may be higher than they are in Texas, there is still no reason why the state should spend three times as much per mile. Both states have large geographic areas with urban and rural parts. California may have the larger metro areas, but Texas is growing more rapidly and has a need for additional highways. California is also unique in that it does not rank higher than 25 in any category. Only one other state, Oklahoma, does so poorly in all 13 categories. Even last place New Jersey has high rankings in some of the fatality and pavement quality categories.

California is one of five states to spend more than $40,000 per mile on maintenance costs. New Jersey, Washington, New York, and Rhode Island are the others.

California is one of nine states to spend more than $200,000 per mile on total costs. New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Rhode Island, Maryland, Connecticut, and Washington are the others.

California is one of six states to have more than 20% of their urban arterial pavement condition in poor condition. The others are Rhode Island, Nebraska, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey.

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, total) per mile.