Policy Study

Montana Ranks 25th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness 

Montana’s highway system ranks 25th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a 14-spot decline from the previous report, where Montana ranked 11th. 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.

Montana ranks in the bottom 10 of all states in rural fatality rate and other fatality rate. Montana’s rural fatality rate of 1.84 is 1.1 times higher than Idaho’s rate and 1.4 times higher than Wyoming’s rate. Montana’s other fatality rate is 1.5 times higher than Idaho’s rate and 1.7 times higher than Wyoming’s rate. 

In safety and performance categories, Montana ranks 47th in rural fatality rate, 14th in urban fatality rate, 28th in structurally deficient bridges, 3rd in traffic congestion, 25th in rural Interstate pavement condition, and 13th in urban Interstate pavement condition. 

Montana is 32nd in capital and bridge costs per mile and 34th in maintenance spending per mile. 

Montana’s best rankings are in urbanized area congestion (3rd) and urban fatality rate (14th).

Montana’s worst rankings are in rural fatality rate (47th) and other fatality rate (45th). 

Montana’s commuters spend eight hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 3rd in the country. 

Montana’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 26th largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, Montana needs to improve its rural arterial pavement quality, improve its urban arterial pavement quality, reduce its rural fatality rate, and its other fatality rates,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “The state ranks in the bottom 20 of all states in seven of the categories. According to most metrics, Montana’s highway system is on a downward slide.” 

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, Montana’s overall highway performance is better than Washington (ranks 46th) and South Dakota (ranks 28th), but worse than North Dakota (ranks 9th).

Montana is doing worse than some comparable states such as Wyoming (ranks 16th), but better than others like Idaho (ranks 34th).

Montana declined 14 places from the previous report. Montana was penalized by the change in how the report calculates spending. However, Montana’s high capital and bridge and maintenance spending are not the state’s biggest problems. Arterial pavement quality is in the bottom 15 of all states and has been on a downward slide over the past five years. Both the rural and other fatality rates are abysmal, even for a low-population, low-density state. With the exception of urbanized area congestion, the state has no top 10 rankings. And unless leaders address pavement quality, the state’s ranking will continue to slip. 

Montana 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, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Kansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, California, South Dakota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Washington, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio. 

Montana is one of six states that declined in the overall rankings by at least 10 spots from the previous report. The other states are Oregon, Kansas, South Dakota, Vermont, and Idaho.

*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.