Policy Study

Iowa Ranks 31st in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Iowa’s highway system ranks 31st in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a nine-spot decrease from the previous report, where Iowa ranked 22nd. However, some categories in the report cannot be compared to previous years due to methodological changes that also impacted some state’s overall rankings. These changes are fully explained in Part 2 and the appendix of the full report.

Iowa ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in capital and bridge disbursements and structurally deficient bridges. Indiana’s capital and bridge disbursement ratio of 1.30 is 1.4 times higher than Nebraska’s ratio and 1.3 times higher than Wisconsin’s ratio. Almost 20% of Iowa’s bridges are structurally deficient. This percentage is more than double the 8.34% of structurally deficient bridges in peer state Nebraska and almost triple the 6.90% of structurally deficient bridges in peer state Wisconsin. 

In safety and performance categories, Iowa ranks 10th in rural fatality rate, 22nd in urban fatality rate, 49th in structurally deficient bridges, 2nd in traffic congestion, 30th in rural Interstate pavement condition, and 33rd in urban Interstate pavement condition. 

Iowa is 42nd in capital and bridge costs per mile and 23rd in maintenance spending per mile. 

Iowa’s best rankings are in traffic congestion (2nd) and in rural fatality rate (10th).

Iowa’s worst rankings are structurally deficient bridges (49th) and capital and bridge disbursements per lane-mile (42nd). 

Iowa drivers waste 7.5 hours per year in traffic congestion, ranking 2nd in the nation. 

Iowa’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 29th largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, Iowa needs to reduce its percentage of structurally deficient bridges and reduce its capital and bridge spending. The state ranks in the bottom 10 of all states for both categories,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “The state spending is above average while system conditions are below average. Iowa’s highway system performs worse than its peer states.”

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, Iowa’s overall highway performance is worse than Illinois (ranks 29th), Missouri (ranks 11th), and Minnesota (ranks 12th). 

Iowa ranks behind some comparable states such as Wisconsin (ranks 33rd), but ahead of others like Nebraska (ranks 26th). 

Iowa doesn’t shine in any one area. The state has one ranking in the top 10: urbanized area congestion. The state’s big weakness is its high percentage of structurally deficient bridges. The only state with a higher percentage of bridges in poor shape is West Virginia, a state with generally older infrastructure. Iowa needs to consider adopting the best practices of its southern and northern neighbors, both of which have better overall highway systems. 

Iowa is one of nine states in which 10% or more of their bridges are structurally deficient. The others are West Virginia, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Maine, North Dakota, and Michigan. 

*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.