Policy Study

North Carolina Ranks 2nd in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

North Carolina’s highway system ranks 2nd in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a three-spot improvement from the previous report, where North Carolina ranked 5th. 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.

North Carolina ranks in the bottom 15 nationally in other fatality rate, ranking 39th. North Carolina’s other fatality rate of 1.85 is 1.2 times higher than peer state Virginia’s rate and is 1.1 times higher than peer state Georgia’s rate. 

In safety and performance categories, North Carolina ranks 22nd in rural fatality rate, 20th in urban fatality rate, 30th in structurally deficient bridges, 11th in traffic congestion, 15th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 15th in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

North Carolina is 11th in capital and bridge spending per mile and 8th in maintenance spending per mile.

North Carolina’s best rankings are in other disbursements per lane-mile (5th) and urban arterial pavement condition (7th).

North Carolina’s worst rankings are in other fatality rate (39th) and structurally deficient bridges (30th). 

North Carolina commuters spend 16.4 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 11th nationally. 

North Carolina’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the second largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, North Carolina needs to reduce its other fatality rate and its percentage of structurally deficient bridges. Neither ranking is abysmal but they are the only categories in which the state ranks outside the top 25,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Over the last year the state has reduced its percentage of structurally deficient bridges, leading to a three-spot improvement in the rankings.”

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, North Carolina’s overall highway performance is better than Kentucky (ranks 7th), Tennessee (ranks 3rd), and South Carolina (ranks 6th). 

North Carolina is doing better than some comparable states such as Georgia (ranks 4th) but worse than Virginia (ranks 1st).

North Carolina has an excellent highway system. The state ranks in the top 25 in 11 of the 13 categories. North Carolina’s secret is that it is able to maintain smooth highways at a low overall cost. While other large-population states struggle, North Carolina shows it is possible to be in the top-10 in population and receive a top-five ranking in the Annual Highway Report. If the state continues to reduce its percentage of structurally deficient bridges and other fatality rate, it will be a contender for the top spot. 

North Carolina 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, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Kansas, Tennessee, 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.