Policy Study

Wisconsin Ranks 26th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Wisconsin’s highway system ranks 26th in the nation in overall cost- effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a four-spot decrease from the previous report, where Wisconsin ranked 22nd.

Wisconsin ranks in the bottom 20 nationally in all four pavement metrics. Arterial pavement is particularly poor. Almost 2% of Wisconsin’s rural arterial pavement is in poor condition, 2.5 times as much as peer state Michigan and twice as much as peer state Minnesota. Approximately 17% of Wisconsin’s urban arterial pavement is in poor condition, four times as much as Minnesota and about the same amount as Michigan.

In safety and performance categories, Wisconsin ranks 11th in overall fatality rate, 28th in structurally deficient bridges, 15th in traffic congestion, 31st in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 34th in rural Interstate pavement condition.

Wisconsin spends $85,343 per mile of state-controlled road. Wisconsin is 29th in total spending per mile and 28th in capital and bridge costs per mile.

Wisconsin’s best rankings are in overall fatality rate (11th) and in urban fatality rate (11th).

Wisconsin’s worst rankings are in rural arterial pavement condition (41st) and urban arterial pavement condition (41st).

Wisconsin commuters spend 6.25 hours time stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 15th nationally.

Wisconsin’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 19th largest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the rankings, Wisconsin needs to improve its arterial pavement quality. Wisconsin ranks in the bottom 10 in both arterial pavement quality rankings,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Wisconsin might need to devote additional resources to its pavement quality. If Wisconsin improves its pavement quality even somewhat, it will move into the top 20 in the rankings.”

Additional Analysis

Compared to nearby states, Wisconsin’s overall highway performance is better than Indiana (ranks 32nd) and Illinois (ranks 40th) but worse than Iowa (ranks 22nd).

Wisconsin is doing better than some comparable states like Michigan (ranks 34th) but worse than others such as Minnesota (ranks 18th).

Wisconsin’s highway system is perfectly average. From the overall ranking of 26th to the highest ranking of 11 and the lowest ranking of 41, Wisconsin does not excel at anything but it is not awful at anything either. The high fatality rankings balance the low pavement rankings with the disbursement rankings in the middle. The state’s four lowest rankings are in pavement quality. If Wisconsin is able to bring its pavement quality to average, it can rise in the rankings substantially.
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.