Policy Study

Wisconsin Ranks 33rd in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

Wisconsin’s highway system ranks 33rd in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a seven-spot decrease from the previous report, where Wisconsin ranked 26th. 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.

Wisconsin ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in other disbursements and urban arterial pavement condition. Wisconsin’s 1.58 other disbursements per lane-mile is 1.3 times higher than peer state Minnesota’s ratio and 3.1 times higher than peer state Michigan’s ratio. A total of 17.30% of Wisconsin’s urban arterial pavement is in poor condition, 9.4 times more than Minnesota’s percent and about the same as Michigan’s percent. 

In safety and performance categories, Wisconsin ranks 12th in rural fatality rate, 9th in urban fatality rate, 27th in structurally deficient bridges, 13th in traffic congestion, 37th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 36th in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

Wisconsin is 29th in capital and bridge spending per mile and 21st in maintenance spending per mile.

Wisconsin’s best rankings are in urban fatality rate (9th) and rural fatality rate (12th).

Wisconsin’s worst rankings are in urban arterial pavement condition (43rd) and other disbursements per mile (42nd). 

Wisconsin commuters spend 17 hours a year stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 13th nationally. 

Wisconsin’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 19th largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, Wisconsin needs to improve its arterial pavement quality and reduce its other disbursements spending. Wisconsin ranks in the bottom 10 in both arterial pavement quality rankings,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “Wisconsin might need to devote additional resources to its pavement quality. While few of the state’s rankings are poor, the only thing Wisconsin excels at is having a low fatality rate.”

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, Wisconsin’s overall highway performance is worse than Indiana (ranks 23rd), Illinois (ranks 29th), and Iowa (ranks 31st). 

Wisconsin is doing worse than some comparable states such as Michigan (ranks 27th) and others like Minnesota (ranks 12th). 

Wisconsin’s highway system is perfectly average. From the overall ranking of 33rd to the highest ranking of nine and the lowest ranking of 43, Wisconsin does not excel at anything, but it is not awful at anything either. The high fatality rankings balance the low pavement rankings with the disbursement rankings in the middle. Some of the state’s lowest rankings are in pavement quality. If Wisconsin can bring its pavement quality to average, it can rise in the rankings substantially. 

*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.