Policy Study

Kentucky Ranks 7th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Kentucky’s highway system ranks 7th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a three-spot decrease from the previous report, where Kentucky ranked 4th. 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.

Kentucky ranks in the top 30 of all states in 11 of the 13 categories, but in the bottom 15 in urban fatality rate and other fatality rate. Kentucky’s 1.26 urban fatality rate is high, but lower than peer state Missouri’s and peer state Tennessee’s rates. Kentucky’s 1.68 other fatality rate is 1.4 times higher than Missouri’s rate but lower than peer state Tennessee’s rate.

In safety and performance categories, Kentucky ranks 24th in rural fatality rate, 40th in urban fatality rate, 26th in structurally deficient bridges, 19th in traffic congestion, 16th in rural Interstate pavement condition and 16th in urban Interstate pavement condition. 

Kentucky is 14th in capital and bridge costs per mile and 19th in maintenance spending per mile. 

Kentucky’s best rankings are in administrative disbursements (1st) and urban arterial pavement condition (6th).

Kentucky’s worst rankings are in other fatality rate (48th) and in urban fatality rate (40th). 

Kentucky drivers spend 19 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 19th nationally.

Kentucky’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the eighth largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, Kentucky needs to reduce its other 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. “While it may be challenging for Kentucky to have fatality rates as low as Minnesota, the state can improve from its bottom 15 rankings in both categories.”

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, Kentucky’s overall highway performance is better than Ohio (ranks 17th) and Indiana (ranks 23rd) but worse than Virginia (ranks 1st). 

Kentucky ranks ahead of some comparable states such as Missouri (ranks 11th) but behind others like Tennessee (ranks 3rd). 

With the exception of other fatality rate and urban fatality rate, Kentucky has an excellent highway system. Kentucky’s disbursements are low and its pavement quality is good. Kentucky is a consistent top-10 state. It does not bounce around in the ratings like some other states. If the state could reduce its fatality rates, it would be a contender for the top spot in the rankings. 

Kentucky 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, Hawaii, Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Nevada, South Dakota, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, and Illinois.

Kentucky is one of 24 states that have other fatality rates of 1.5 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled or higher. The other 23 are West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Kansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, California, South Dakota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Washington, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio. 

*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.