Policy Study

Alaska Ranks 50th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Alaska’s highway system ranks 50th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a two-spot decrease from 48th in the previous report. However, some categories in the report cannot be compared to previous years due to methodological changes that also impacted some states’ overall rankings. These changes are fully explained in Part 2 and the appendix of the full report.

Alaska ranks in the bottom 10 states in six of the 13 categories. The state’s 2.09 capital and bridge disbursement per lane-mile ratio is 2.1 times higher than peer state Hawaii’s ratio and 1.9 times higher than peer state Montana’s ratio. The state’s 2.00 maintenance disbursement per lane-mile ratio is 2.8 times higher than peer state Hawaii’s ratio and 1.9 times higher than peer state Montana’s ratio. Almost 10% of Alaska’s rural Interstate pavement quality is poor, more than seven times higher than Montana’s percent. Almost 14% of Alaska’s rural arterial pavement quality is in poor condition, 3.5 times higher than Hawaii’s percent and eight times higher than Montana’s percent. Alaska’s 1.71 rural fatality rate is better than Hawaii’s rate but equivalent to Montana’s rate. Finally, the state’s 1.27 urban fatality rate is slightly higher than Hawaii’s rate and 1.5 times higher than Montana’s rate. 

In safety and performance categories, Alaska ranks 44th in rural fatality rate, 41st in urban fatality rate, 35th in structurally deficient bridges, 15th in traffic congestion, 12th in rural Interstate pavement condition, and 48th in urban Interstate pavement condition.

The state ranks 49th in capital and bridge costs per mile and 47th in maintenance spending per mile.

Alaska’s best rankings are in other fatality rate (5th) and urban arterial pavement condition (9th).

Alaska’s worst rankings are in capital and bridge disbursements per lane-mile (49th) and 

rural arterial pavement condition (50th). 

Alaska’s drivers waste 17.1 hours a year in traffic congestion, ranking 15th in the nation. 

Alaska’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 43rd largest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the report’s overall rankings, Alaska needs to improve its capital and bridge spending, maintenance spending, rural Interstate pavement condition, rural arterial pavement condition, rural fatality rate, and urban fatality rate,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “The combination of the state’s high costs, terrible rural pavement conditions, and very high rural and urban fatality rate leads to the state’s last place ranking in the report. 

Additional Analysis 

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, other) per mile.

Compared to nearby states, Alaska’s overall highway performance is worse than Idaho (ranks 34th), Oregon (ranks 37th), and Washington (ranks 46th). 

Alaska ranks behind some comparable states such as Montana (ranks 25th) and Hawaii (ranks 48th). 

Alaska is a unique state bounded on three sides by water with a very low population density. The state is never going to rank first, but its system should perform higher in a number of categories. With the change in how the report calculates spending, Alaska now has high capital and bridge disbursements and high maintenance disbursements. But it is not as if the state is getting good pavement quality for those high expenditures. The state continues to rank in the bottom five in both rural Interstate pavement quality and rural arterial pavement quality. To its credit, Alaska’s urban pavement condition is very good and its urbanized area congestion low. But after decreasing the percent of pavement in poor condition in 2019, the percent of poor pavement increased in 2020. In addition, the state’s roadways have very high rural and urban fatality rates. The fatality rates are partially explained by the long distance to hospitals in many parts of the state, although the state should develop a strategy to reduce both rates. Alaska needs to lower its expenditures, increase its pavement quality, or both. 

Alaska is one of six states with a capital and bridge disbursement ratio above 1.50. The other five are Washington, Idaho, New York, Arizona, and New Jersey. 

Alaska is one of seven states with a maintenance disbursement ratio above 1.50. The other six are Washington, Vermont, Indiana, New York, Oklahoma, and California. 

Alaska is one of eight states with more than 3% of their rural Interstate system pavement in poor condition. The other seven area Colorado, California, Washington, West Virginia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. 

Alaska is one of five states that reported more than 3% of their rural other principal arterial pavement to be in poor condition. The other four are Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maine, and Idaho.

Alaska is one of 25 states that have urban fatality rates of 1.0 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled or higher. The other 24 are New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming, Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky, Hawaii, Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Nevada, South Dakota, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, and Illinois.

*2021 data
The Annual Highway Report is based on spending and performance data submitted by state highway agencies to the federal government and urban congestion data from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for 2020 as well as bridge condition data from the Better Roads inventory for 2021. For more details on the calculation of each of the 13 performance measures used in the report, as well as the overall performance measure, please refer to the appendix in the main report. The report’s dataset includes Interstate, federal, and state roads, but not county or local roads. All rankings are based on performance measures that are ratios rather than absolute values: the financial measures are disbursements per mile, the fatality rate is fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles of travel, the urban congestion measure is the annual delay per auto commuter, and the others are percentages. For example, the state ranking 1st in structurally deficient bridges has the smallest percentage of structurally deficient bridges, not the smallest number of structurally deficient bridges.