Policy Study

Iowa Ranks 22nd in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Iowa’s highway system ranks 22nd in the nation in overall cost- effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway

Report by Reason Foundation. This is a two-spot improvement from the previous report, where Iowa ranked 20th.

Iowa ranks 48th in structurally deficient bridges. Almost 20% of Iowa’s bridges are structurally deficient. This percentage is more than double the 8.84% of structurally deficient bridges in peer state Nebraska and almost triple the 7.20% of structurally deficient bridges in peer state Wisconsin. Structurally deficient bridges can be safety hazards and need to be a priority for remediation.

In safety and performance categories, Iowa ranks 18th in overall fatality rate, 48th in structurally deficient bridges, 22nd in traffic congestion, 30th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 18th in rural Interstate pavement condition.

Iowa spends $63,471 per mile of state-controlled road. Iowa is 19th in total spending per mile and 34th in capital and bridge costs per mile.

Iowa’s best rankings are in rural fatality rate (13th) and in urban fatality rate (13th).

Iowa’s worst rankings are structurally deficient bridges (48th), capital disbursements per mile (34th), and rural arterial pavement condition (34th).

Iowa drivers waste 7.69 hours per year in traffic congestion, ranking 22nd in the nation.

Iowa’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 29th largest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the rankings, Iowa needs to reduce its percentage of structurally deficient bridges and improve its pavement quality. The state ranks in the bottom three states for structurally deficient bridges and bottom half of all states in three of the four pavement quality rankings,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and

senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “While the state has held costs down effectively, it may be coming at the expense of system quality, which lags Iowa’s peer states.”

Additional Analysis

Compared to nearby states, Iowa’s overall highway performance is better than Illinois (ranks 40th) but worse than Missouri (ranks 2nd) and Minnesota (ranks 18th).

Iowa ranks ahead of some comparable states, like Wisconsin (ranks 26th) but behind others such as Nebraska (ranks 21st).

Iowa doesn’t shine in any one area. The state has no rankings in the top 10. However, the state has a satisfactory highway system at a relatively low price. The state’s big weakness is the percentage of structurally deficient bridges. The only states with a higher percentage of bridges in poor shape are coastal Rhode Island, and West Virginia, a state with generally older infrastructure. Neither is similar to Iowa. Iowa does not compare favorably to its peer states, having more than double the structurally deficient bridges of Nebraska and almost triple those of Wisconsin. Iowa needs to prioritize improving its bridges.

Iowa is one of five states in which 15% or more of bridges are structurally deficient. The others are Rhode Island, West Virginia, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania.
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.