Policy Study

Nebraska Ranks 26th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Nebraska’s highway system ranks 26th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a five-spot decline from the previous report where the state ranked 21st. 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.

Nebraska ranks in the bottom 10 of all states in maintenance disbursements and urban arterial pavement condition. The state’s 1.45 maintenance disbursement per lane-mile ratio is 1.2 times higher than peer state Kansas’ ratio and 1.8 times higher than peer state South Dakota’s ratio. Nebraska’s 28.70% of poor urban arterial pavement mileage is four times higher than Kansas’ percent and South Dakota’s percent. 

In safety and performance categories, Nebraska ranks 28th in rural fatality rate, 17th in urban fatality rate, 36th in structurally deficient bridges, 8th in traffic congestion, 10th in rural Interstate pavement condition, and 29th in urban Interstate pavement condition. 

Nebraska is 24th in capital and bridge costs per mile and 41st in maintenance spending per mile.

Nebraska’s best rankings are in administrative disbursements per mile (6th) and urbanized area congestion (8th).

Nebraska’s worst rankings are in urban arterial pavement condition (48th) and maintenance disbursements per lane-mile (41st). 

Nebraska commuters spend 14.7 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 8th in the country. 

Nebraska’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 30th largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, Nebraska needs to focus on reducing its maintenance disbursements and improving its urban arterial pavement quality. The state ranks in the bottom 10 in each of these categories,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Despite ranking in the top 10 in administrative disbursements, rural arterial pavement quality, and urbanized area congestion, Nebraska’s poor performance in other categories prevents the state from obtaining a higher ranking.” 

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, Nebraska’s overall highway performance is better than Iowa (ranks 31st) and Colorado (ranks 43rd), but worse than Wyoming (ranks 16th).

Nebraska is doing worse than comparable states such as Kansas (ranks 22nd) but better than others like South Dakota (ranks 28th).

Nebraska’s ranking of 26th is nothing to brag about. The state is unable to translate its medium-high disbursements into a top 20 ranking because its rural arterial pavement quality, urban arterial pavement quality, and bridge quality are all below average. Nebraska does have low fatality rates for a rural state. But the state needs to consider adopting a project prioritization tool or similar approach to help it get more bang for the buck. 

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

*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.