Policy Study

Washington Ranks 42nd in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Washington’s highway system ranks 42nd in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a three-spot improvement from the previous report, where Washington ranked 45th.

Washington ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in six of the report’s 13 metrics. The state’s costs are disproportionately high and the biggest driver of its poor overall rankings. While some higher costs are understandable, for maintenance disbursements Washington spends

$56,847 per mile of state-controlled road, which is almost four times more than the

$15,875 that peer state Oregon spends and 2.5 times the $23,270 that peer state Colorado spends. Administrative disbursements are not much better; Washington spends $16,219 per mile of state-controlled road, which is almost twice the $8,703 that Oregon spends and the

$9,703 that Colorado spends.

In safety and performance categories, Washington ranks 10th in overall fatality rate, 12th in structurally deficient bridges, 10th in traffic congestion, 27th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 46th in rural Interstate pavement condition.

Washington spends $202,823 per mile of state-controlled road. Washington is 42nd in total spending per mile and 44th in capital and bridge costs per mile.

Washington’s best rankings are in urban fatality rate (7th), urbanized area congestion (10th) and overall fatality rate (10th).

Washington’s worst rankings are in maintenance disbursements per mile (49th) and administrative disbursements per mile (47th).

Washington commuters spend 5.65 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 10th nationally.

Washington’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 32nd largest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the rankings, Washington should try to have its high costs better translate into good pavement condition. For example, the state is in the bottom 10 in spending in all four disbursement categories but still ranks in the bottom 10 in both rural Interstate and urban arterial pavement condition,” 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 Washington to reduce its spending, if the state could improve its pavement quality to the national average, it would move up in the overall rankings. As is, the state has the worst of both worlds: high spending and poor roadways.”

Additional Analysis

Compared to nearby states, Washington’s overall highway performance is better than California (ranks 45th) but worse than Idaho (ranks 8th) and Montana (ranks 11th).

Washington is doing worse than comparable states like Oregon (ranks 25th) and Colorado (ranks 37th).

Washington is one of two west coast states (the other is California) that have high overall costs and poor pavement quality. The west coast is not as expensive a neighborhood as the Northeast, but overall costs are still higher than the Midwest or the South. Unfortunately, while Washington spends two to four times as much as its peer states, its pavement quality is poor. For example, Washington has nine times as much poor rural Interstate pavement as Oregon and a comparable amount to Colorado. Washington has more than twice as much poor urban arterial pavement quality as Oregon and 1.5 times as much as Colorado.

Washington ranks highly in several other categories. It has a lower percentage of structurally deficient bridges and two of its three fatality rates are in the top 10. But until its high spending delivers better pavement quality, the state will be stuck in the bottom 10 of the rankings.

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

Washington is one of four states to spend more than $15,0000 per lane-mile on administrative disbursements. Delaware, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are the other three.

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

Washington is one of five states that reported more than 4% of their rural Interstate mileage to be in poor condition. Alaska, Colorado, and South Carolina are the other three.

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.