Policy Study

New Jersey Ranks 44th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

New Jersey’s highway system ranks 44th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a six-spot improvement from the previous report, where New Jersey ranked last overall. 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.

New Jersey ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in six of the report’s 13 metrics. The state’s costs are disproportionately high and the biggest driver of its poor overall rankings. New Jersey’s 1.53 capital and bridge disbursement ratio is 1.4 times higher than peer state Maryland’s ratio and 3.5 times higher than peer state Massachusetts’ ratio. New Jersey’s 1.47 maintenance ratio is 1.7 times higher than Maryland’s ratio and 2.5 times higher than Massachusetts’ ratio. New Jersey’s 9.32% of poor urban Interstate pavement mileage is 1.3 times higher than Maryland’s rate and 3.2 times higher than Massachusetts’ rate. New Jersey’s 2.26% of poor rural arterial pavement mileage is 2.2 times higher than Maryland’s percentage and twice as high as Massachusetts’ percentage. New Jersey’s 18.69% of poor urban arterial pavement mileage is 1.1 times higher than Maryland’s percentage but slightly lower than Massachusetts’ percentage. Finally, New Jersey drivers spend 48 hours stuck in traffic congestion annually, twice as much as Maryland drivers and 1.2 times more than Massachusetts drivers. 

In safety and performance categories, New Jersey ranks 13th in rural fatality rate, 18th in urban fatality rate, 31st in structurally deficient bridges, 50th in traffic congestion, 46th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 24th in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

New Jersey is 45th in capital and bridge spending per mile and 42nd in maintenance costs per mile.

New Jersey’s best rankings are other fatality rate (3rd) and rural fatality rate (13th).

New Jersey’s worst rankings are urbanized area congestion (50th) and urban Interstate pavement condition (46th).

New Jersey commuters spend more time stuck in traffic congestion—over 48 hours per year—than drivers in any other state. Annual peak hours spent in congestion range from 6.5 hours in Wyoming to 48 hours in New Jersey.

New Jersey’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 46th largest highway system in the country. 

“To start to improve in the rankings, New Jersey should try to have its high costs better translate into things like good pavement condition, less traffic congestion and a lower percentage of deficient bridges. For example, the state ranks in the bottom 15 in all four disbursement categories (capital and bridge disbursements, administrative disbursements, maintenance disbursements, other disbursements) but still ranks in the bottom 10 in three of the four pavement condition categories (urban Interstate, rural arterial, and urban arterial),” 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 New Jersey to reduce its spending, if the state could improve its pavement quality to the national average, it would move up in the overall rankings substantially. As it is, the state has the worst of both worlds: high spending and poor roadways.”

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, New Jersey’s overall highway performance is better than New York (ranks 49th), but worse than Delaware (ranks 35th) and Pennsylvania (ranks 41st). 

New Jersey is doing worse than comparable states such as Massachusetts (ranks 20th) and Maryland (ranks 24th).

New Jersey benefitted from the change in how the report calculated spending. But while the state improved its ranking from 50th to 44th, there are still a number of major problems. The state ranks in the bottom 10 of six of the categorical rankings. For example, despite spending a lot of money, pavement quality is far below average. The state ranks in the bottom 10 in the nation in three of the four pavement categories rankings. In contrast, peer states Maryland and Massachusetts have pavement quality around the national average. 

New Jersey is one of six states with a capital and bridge disbursement ratio higher than 1.5. The other five are Washington, Alaska, Idaho, New York, and Arizona. 

New Jersey is one of eight states that reported more than 7% of their urban Interstate pavement in poor condition. The other seven are Hawaii, Louisiana, New York, California, West Virginia, Delaware, and Michigan.

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