Policy Study

Colorado Ranks 43rd in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Colorado’s highway system ranks 43rd in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a six-spot decrease from 37th 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.

Colorado ranks in the bottom 15 nationally in four categories. The state’s 1.49 maintenance disbursement per lane-mile ratio is 3.0 times higher than Arizona’s ratio but lower than Washington’s ratio. The state’s 1.51 administrative disbursements per lane-mile ratio is higher than average but lower than both Arizona’s ratio and Washington’s ratio. More than 8% of Colorado’s rural Interstate pavement is in poor condition. This percentage is three times more than peer state Arizona’s percent and two times higher than peer state Washington’s percent. The state’s 6.64% of urban interstate pavement in poor condition is 3.1 times higher than Arizona’s rate and 2.3 times higher than Washington’s rate. 

In safety and performance categories, Colorado ranks 32nd in rural fatality rate, 36th in urban fatality rate, 21st in structurally deficient bridges, 31st in traffic congestion, 40th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 47th in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

The state ranks 28th in capital and bridge costs per mile and 43rd in maintenance spending per mile. 

Colorado’s best rankings are in other disbursements (12th) and other fatality rate (20th). 

Colorado’s worst rankings are in rural Interstate pavement condition (47th), and maintenance disbursements (43rd).

Colorado’s drivers waste 22.8 hours a year in traffic congestion, ranking 31st in the nation. 

Colorado’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 28th largest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the report’s overall rankings, Colorado could improve its rural and urban Interstate pavement conditions and reduce its maintenance and administrative spending,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Colorado has the fourth highest percentage of poor rural Interstate pavement. Colorado’s spending numbers are average-high and its overall pavement quality is average-poor. For the amount the state spends, the pavement quality should be better.” 

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, Colorado’s overall highway performance is worse than Utah (ranks 10th), Wyoming (ranks 16th), and New Mexico (ranks 36th). 

Colorado is better than some comparable states, such as Washington (ranks 46th) and worse than others like Arizona (ranks 30th). 

Colorado ranks poorly, not because it is worst in any one category. Rather, the only category that the state shines in is other disbursements. It is below average in all other disbursement categories, pavement quality categories, and urbanized traffic congestion. And it is average at best in the safety categories. The state’s biggest need is to improve Interstate pavement quality. Colorado could learn a lot from neighboring state Utah, which has some of the same geographical characteristics yet manages to rank 10th among all states. 

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

Colorado is one of 25 states that have urban fatality rates of 1.0 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled or higher. The other 24 states are New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming, Delaware, Missouri, Alaska, Kentucky, Hawaii, Alabama, Georgia, 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.