Policy Study

Montana Ranks 11th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Montana’s highway system ranks 11th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a one-spot decline from the previous report, where Montana ranked 10th.

Montana’s worst rankings are in safety. The state ranks 44th in overall fatality rate and 37th in rural fatality rate. While the overall fatality rate is similar to peer state Wyoming’s rate, it is worse than peer state Idaho’s rate. For rural fatality rate, all three states rank about the same. Montana also struggles with its arterial pavement quality. The state has three times the percentage of poor rural arterial pavement as both Wyoming and Idaho. And the state has two times the percentage of poor urban arterial pavement as both Wyoming and Idaho.

In safety and performance categories, Montana ranks 44th in overall fatality rate, 27th in structurally deficient bridges, 4th in traffic congestion, 14th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 20th in rural Interstate pavement condition.

Montana spends $31,131 per mile of state-controlled road. Montana is 6th in total spending per mile and 8th in capital and bridge costs per mile.

Montana’s best rankings are in urbanized area congestion (4th) and urban fatality rate (4th). Montana’s worst rankings are in overall fatality rate (44th) and rural fatality rate (37th).

Montana’s commuters spend 4.90 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 4th in the country.

Montana’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 26th largest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the rankings, Montana needs to reduce its overall fatality rate and rural fatality rates as well as reduce the percentage of rural arterial pavement and urban arterial pavement that are in poor condition,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “While Montana will never rank number one in fatality rate, the overall fatality rate is a real problem. It’s also somewhat puzzling that the state’s Interstate highways are in such good shape while the pavement quality on the state’s arterial highways needs attention.”

Additional Analysis

Compared to nearby states, Montana’s overall highway performance is better than Washington (ranks 42nd) but worse than North Dakota (ranks 1st), and South Dakota (ranks 9th).

Montana is doing better than some comparable states like Wyoming (ranks 12th) but worse than others such as Idaho (ranks 8th).

Montana has some categories it excels in and others in which it needs to improve. Disbursements are low, Interstate pavement quality is good, and traffic congestion is non- existent. On the other hand, overall and rural fatality rates are poor and arterial pavement quality could be improved. Overall the system is in good shape. The state has six top-10 rankings and only one ranking in the 40s. Improving pavement quality and the fatality rates could vault the state into the top 10.
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.