Policy Study

North Dakota Ranks 9th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

North Dakota’s highway system ranks 9th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is an eight-spot decline from the previous report, where North Dakota ranked first 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.

North Dakota ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in percentage of structurally deficient bridges. More than 11% of North Dakota’s bridges are structurally deficient, more than 1.5 times peer state Montana’s percentage of structurally deficient bridges but less than peer state South Dakota’s percentage of structurally deficient bridges.

In safety and performance categories, North Dakota ranks 19th in rural fatality rate, 5th in urban fatality rate, 43rd in structurally deficient bridges, 4th in traffic congestion, 2nd in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 7th in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

North Dakota is 38th in capital and bridge spending per mile and 5th in maintenance spending per mile.

North Dakota’s best rankings are in urban Interstate pavement condition (2nd) and urbanized area congestion (4th).

North Dakota’s worst rankings are in structurally deficient bridges (43rd) and capital and bridge disbursement per lane-mile (38th). 

North Dakota commuters spend 8.6 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 4th nationally. 

North Dakota’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 36th largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, North Dakota needs to improve its capital and bridge efficiency and reduce its percentage of structurally deficient bridges. North Dakota ranks in the bottom 10 of all states for percentage structurally deficient bridges,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Other than percent structurally deficient bridges, capital and bridge spending, and other spending, North Dakota’s next lowest ranking is 28th.” 

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 Dakota’s overall highway performance is better than Minnesota (ranks 12th), Wyoming (ranks 16th), and Nebraska (ranks 26th). 

North Dakota is doing better than comparable states such as South Dakota (ranks 28th) and others like Montana (ranks 25th).

North Dakota has finished in the top spot for the past four years, but this year it only ranks in the top 10. North Dakota was penalized by the change in how the report calculates spending. However, the state’s biggest problem is its high percentage of structurally deficient bridges, a weakness that seems to be getting worse, not better. The state continues to excel in categories in which other peer states struggle, such as fatality rate. In fact, North Dakota’s average fatality rank of 1.14 is better than every large-geographic-area-small-population state in the country and is better than some large-population-small-geographic-area states. 

North Dakota is one of nine states that reported more than 10% of their bridges are structurally deficient. The others are West Virginia, Iowa, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Maine, and Michigan.  

*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.