Policy Study

Hawaii Ranks 48th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Hawaii’s highway system ranks 48th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a one-spot decrease from 47th 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.

Hawaii ranks in the bottom 10 of all states in three of 12 categories (Hawaii has no rural Interstate mileage). The state’s pavement quality is very poor, among the worst in the country and the primary driver for the state’s low ranking. The state ranks last in urban Interstate pavement condition. More than a quarter (25.88%) of the state’s urban Interstate pavement condition is in poor condition, 15 times the percentage of peer state Alaska’s pavement and 162 times the percentage of peer state New Hampshire’s pavement. The state’s rural arterial pavement quality is not much better. A total of 4.16% of rural arterial pavement is in poor condition, five times more than New Hampshire’s poor pavement but less than Alaska’s poor pavement. Rural fatality rate is also a major weakness. Hawaii’s 2.89 rural fatality rate is 1.5 times higher than Alaska’s rate and four times higher than New Hampshire’s rate. 

In safety and performance categories, Hawaii ranks 49th in rural fatality rate, 39th in urban fatality rate, 33rd in structurally deficient bridges, 26th in traffic congestion, and 50th in urban Interstate pavement condition. 

The state ranks 25th in capital and bridge spending per mile and 20th in maintenance spending per mile.

Hawaii’s best rankings are in other fatality rate (1st) and other disbursements per lane-mile (8th). 

Hawaii’s worst rankings are in urban Interstate pavement condition (50th) and rural fatality rate (49th). 

Hawaii’s drivers waste 20.7 hours a year in traffic congestion, ranking 26th in the nation. 

Hawaii’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the smallest highway system in the country.

“To improve in the report’s overall rankings, Hawaii needs to improve its pavement quality and lower its rural fatality rates. The state ranks in the bottom five for two of three pavement quality rankings (Hawaii has no rural Interstates) and for its rural fatality rates,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Hawaii’s spending is relatively average. Policymakers may consider directing more resources to pavement quality and traffic enforcement.” 

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, Hawaii’s overall highway performance is worse than Oregon (ranks 37th) and Arizona (ranks 30th) but similar to California (ranks 47th). 

Hawaii ranks behind other comparable states, such as New Hampshire (ranks 14th) but ahead of others like Alaska (ranks 50th). 

As a group of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii’s travel patterns are different from the 48 mainland states. While the state has kept costs down, quality has suffered. Hawaii ranks above average in six categories, but its performance is worse than awful in three of the four pavement categories. Nearly 26% of Hawaii’s urban Interstate pavement is in poor condition, more than twice as bad as the next-worst state. Rural arterial pavement condition is three times worse than the average state. Further, the state’s rural fatality rate is more than twice as high as the average state. 

Hawaii is one of eight states that reported more than 7% of their urban Interstate pavement in poor condition. The other seven are Louisiana, New York, California, New Jersey, West Virginia, Delaware, and Michigan.

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

Hawaii is one of three states that have rural fatality rates of 2.0 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled or higher. The other two states are South Carolina and Nevada.

Hawaii 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, 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.