Policy Study

Massachusetts Ranks 20th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Massachusetts’ highway system ranks 20th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a 23-spot improvement from the previous report, where Massachusetts ranked 43rd. 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.

Massachusetts ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in two of the report’s 13 metrics. Massachusetts’ 23.97% of urban arterial pavement in poor condition is 1.5 times more than peer state Maryland’s percent and 1.3 times more than peer state New Jersey’s percent. Massachusetts’ 40.4 peak hours spent in traffic congestion is 1.7 times higher than Maryland’s hours but fewer than New Jersey’s hours. 

In safety and performance categories, Massachusetts ranks 15th in rural fatality rate, 8th in urban fatality rate, 37th in structurally deficient bridges, 48th in traffic congestion, 20th in rural Interstate pavement condition, and 23rd in urban Interstate pavement condition. 

Massachusetts is 3rd in capital and bridge costs per mile and 14th in maintenance spending per mile. 

Massachusetts’ best rankings are in other fatality rate (2nd) and capital and bridge disbursement per lane-mile (3rd).

Massachusetts’ worst rankings are in urbanized area congestion (48th) and urban Interstate pavement condition (47th). 

Massachusetts commuters spend 40.4 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 48th in the country. 

Massachusetts’ state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 45th largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, Massachusetts needs to improve its urban arterial pavement and reduce its urbanized area congestion. The state’s capital and bridge and maintenance spending is among the lowest 15 of all states, which is a remarkable accomplishment considering the state’s high-cost neighborhood,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “But the state may need to redirect resources to help it address urban pavement quality, traffic congestion, and bridge quality.”

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, Massachusetts’ overall highway performance is better than Rhode Island (ranks 42nd) and Vermont (ranks 38th), but worse than Connecticut (ranks 5th). 

Massachusetts is doing better than some comparable states such as New Jersey (ranks 44th) and Maryland (ranks 24th). 

With the report’s change in calculating costs, spending is no longer Massachusetts’ biggest problem. Urban arterial pavement quality, traffic congestion, and bridges are the bigger needs for improvement. There is an argument that Massachusetts needs to redirect funding to address capital and bridge as well as maintenance needs. But the state is also among the largest in the nation to fail to use innovative practices to address its transportation needs. For example, using a P3 to build a network of express toll lanes would reduce traffic congestion in the Boston metro area. 

Massachusetts is one of five states that reported more than 20% of the urban other principal arterial mileage to be in poor condition. California, Rhode Island, Nebraska, and New York are the others. 

Massachusetts is one of nine states where automobile commuters spend more than 30 hours annually stuck in peak-hour traffic congestion. New Jersey, New York, Texas, Rhode Island, Illinois, California, Delaware, and Connecticut are the others.

Massachusetts is one of eight states that improved in the overall rankings by at least 10 spots from the previous report. The other states are Florida, Connecticut, South Carolina, Maryland, Alabama, Illinois, and Georgia.

*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.