Policy Study

Rhode Island Ranks 42nd in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-EffectivenessRhode Island 

Rhode Island’s highway system ranks 42nd in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a seven-spot improvement from the previous report, where Rhode Island ranked 49th. 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.

Rhode Island ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in four of the report’s 13 metrics. The state’s arterial pavement and bridge quality are disproportionately poor. A total of 4.25% of Rhode Island’s rural arterial pavement is in poor condition, 5.4 times more than peer state Connecticut’s percent and 1.9 times more than peer state New Jersey’s percent. A full 30% of the state’s urban arterial pavement is in poor condition, three times more than Connecticut’s percent and 1.6 times New Jersey’s percent. Rhode Island drivers spend 32.7 hours in traffic annually, 1.1 times more than Connecticut drivers but less than New Jersey drivers. Finally, 17.46% of Rhode Island’s bridges are structurally deficient, 3.3 times more than Connecticut’s percent and 2.5 times more than New Jersey’s percent.

In safety and performance categories, Rhode Island ranks 26th in rural fatality rate, 16th in urban fatality rate, 48th in structurally deficient bridges, 46th in traffic congestion, 18th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 3rd in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

Rhode Island is 22nd in capital and bridge spending per mile and 31st in maintenance spending per mile.

Rhode Island’s best rankings are in rural Interstate pavement condition (3rd) and other disbursements per lane-mile (3rd).

Rhode Island’s worst rankings are in urban arterial pavement condition (49th) and rural arterial pavement condition (49th). 

Rhode Island commuters spend 32.7 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 46th nationally. 

Rhode Island’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 49th largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, Rhode Island should improve its pavement condition, reduce its traffic congestion, and reduce its percentage of deficient bridges. The state has average costs but still ranks in the bottom three states in both arterial pavement condition categories and in percent structurally deficient bridges,” 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 Rhode Island to reduce its spending, if the state could improve its arterial pavement quality to the national average and reduce its percentage of structurally deficient bridges somewhat, it would move up in the overall rankings substantially.”

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, Rhode Island’s overall highway performance is worse than Massachusetts (ranks 20th) and New Hampshire (ranks 14th), but better than New York (ranks 49th). 

Rhode Island is doing better than some comparable states such as New Jersey (ranks 44th) but worse than others like Connecticut (ranks 5th).

Rhode Island excels in some categories but performs miserably in others. The state ranks in the top 20 in four categories and the bottom 10 in four categories. Ultimately, the state’s low ranking is a result of it performing very poorly in those four categories, particularly arterial pavement quality and percent structurally deficient bridges. Given the state’s average costs, it might make sense to reprioritize resources on arterial pavement and bridges. 

Rhode Island is one of five states that reported more than 3% of their rural other principal arterial pavement to be in poor condition. The others are Hawaii, Maine, Idaho, and Alaska.

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

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

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