Policy Study

Washington Ranks 46th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Washington’s highway system ranks 46th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a four-spot decline from the previous report, where Washington ranked 42nd. 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.

Washington 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. Washington’s 2.09 capital and bridge disbursement per lane ratio is highest in the country, 1.6 times higher than peer state Oregon’s ratio and two times higher than peer state Colorado’s ratio. Washington’s 3.36 maintenance disbursement ratio per lane-mile is the highest in the country, three times higher than Oregon’s ratio and 2.3 times higher than Colorado’s ratio. Washington’s 2.20 administrative disbursement per lane-mile ratio is 1.5 times higher than both Oregon’s and Colorado’s ratios. Washington’s 2.03 other disbursement per lane-mile ratio is 4.6 times higher than Colorado’s ratio but lower than Oregon’s ratio. Washington also struggles with Interstate pavement condition; 4.10% of Washington’s rural Interstate pavement is in poor condition, 6.2 times more than Oregon’s percent but less than Colorado’s percent. Finally, 17.50% of Washington’s urban arterial pavement is in poor condition, 2.3 times more than Oregon’s percent and 1.5 times more than Colorado’s percent. 

In safety and performance categories, Washington ranks 4th in rural fatality rate, 6th in urban fatality rate, 15th in structurally deficient bridges, 35th in traffic congestion, 22nd in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 45th in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

Washington is 50th in capital and bridge spending per mile and 50th in maintenance spending per mile.

Washington’s best rankings are in rural fatality rate (4th) and urban fatality rate (6th). 

Washington’s worst rankings are in capital and bridge disbursements per mile (50th) and maintenance disbursements per mile (50th). 

Washington commuters spend 24.3 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 35th nationally. 

Washington’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 32nd largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, Washington should try to have its high costs better translate into good pavement condition. For example, the state is in the bottom 10 in spending in all four disbursement categories but still ranks in the bottom 10 in both rural Interstate and urban arterial pavement condition,” 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 Washington to reduce its spending, if the state could improve its pavement quality to the national average, it would move up in the overall rankings. As 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, Washington’s overall highway performance is better than California (ranks 47th) but worse than Idaho (ranks 34th) and Montana (ranks 25th). 

Washington is doing worse than comparable states such as Colorado (ranks 43rd) and others like Oregon (ranks 37th). 

Washington is one of two west coast states (the other is California) that have high overall costs and poor pavement quality. The west coast is not as expensive a neighborhood as the Northeast, but overall costs are still higher than the Midwest or the South. Unfortunately, while Washington spends more than its peer states, its pavement quality is poor. For example, Washington has six times as much poor rural Interstate pavement as Oregon. Washington has more than twice as much poor urban arterial pavement quality as Oregon and 1.5 times as much as Colorado. Washington ranks highly in several other categories. It has a lower percentage of structurally deficient bridges and two of its three fatality rates are in the top 10. But until its high spending delivers better pavement quality, the state will be stuck in the bottom 10 of the rankings. 

Washington is one of six states with a capital and bridge disbursement ratio above 1.50. The other five are Alaska, Idaho, New York, Arizona, and New Jersey. 

Washington is one of seven states with a maintenance disbursement ratio above 1.50. The other six are Vermont, Indiana, Alaska, New York, Oklahoma, and California. 

Washington is one of seven states with an administrative disbursement ratio higher than 2.0. The other six are Vermont, Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota, and New Hampshire. 

Washington is one of five states with an other disbursement ratio above 2.00. The other four are New York, Oregon, Kansas, and Utah. 

Washington is one of eight states with more than 3% of their rural Interstate system pavement in poor condition. The other seven are Alaska, Colorado, California, West Virginia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Washington 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, North Carolina, California, South Dakota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, 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.