Policy Study

North Carolina Ranks 5th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

North Carolina’s highway system ranks 5th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a nine spot improvement from the previous report, where North Carolina ranked 14th.

North Carolina ranks in the bottom 15 nationally in structurally deficient bridges. North Carolina has more than twice the percentage of structurally deficient bridges as peer state Virginia and more than three times the percentage of structurally deficient bridges as peer state Georgia. Structurally deficient bridges are the state’s weakest category by far.

In safety and performance categories, North Carolina ranks 29th in overall fatality rate, 39th in structurally deficient bridges, 29th in traffic congestion, 10th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 22nd in rural Interstate pavement condition.

North Carolina spends $41,220 per mile of state-controlled road. North Carolina is 14th in total spending per mile and 17th in capital and bridge costs per mile.

North Carolina’s best rankings are in rural arterial pavement condition (8th), urban Interstate pavement condition (10th) and urban arterial pavement condition (10th).

North Carolina’s worst rankings are in structurally deficient bridges (39th), traffic congestion (29th), and overall fatality rate (29th).

North Carolina commuters spend 10.74 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 29th nationally.

North Carolina’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 2nd largest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the rankings, North Carolina needs to reduce its percentage of structurally deficient bridges. As a coastal state, North Carolina has more bridges than most states, but bridge quality is the state’s biggest weakness,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Over the last year the state has taken steps to reduce its rural fatality rate and improve its overall pavement quality leading to a nine-spot increase in the rankings.”

Additional Analysis

Compared to nearby states, North Carolina’s overall highway performance is better than Tennessee (ranks 10th) and South Carolina (ranks 23rd) but worse than Kentucky (ranks 4th).

North Carolina is doing better than some comparable states like Georgia (ranks 14th) but worse than others such as Virginia (ranks 2nd).

With the exception of structurally deficient bridges, North Carolina has an excellent highway system. The state ranks in the top 30 in 10 of the 11 categories. North Carolina’s secret is that it is able to maintain smooth highways at a low overall cost. While other large-population states struggle, North Carolina shows it is possible to be in the top-10 in population and receive a top-10 ranking in the Annual Highway Report. If the state reduces its percentage of structurally deficient bridges, it is a contender for the top spot.

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.