States With the Most Cost-Efficient Highways

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast In this June 12, 2014 aerial photo, heavy machinery work on expanding the two-lane U.S. Route 85 between Williston and Watford City, North Dakota.


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The Reason Foundation’s annual highway report gives high marks to North Dakota, Virginia and Missouri for good road conditions and low spending on highway and bridge maintenance.

North Dakota, Virginia and Missouri have the best performing and most cost-efficient state highway systems in the country, according to a new evaluation of highway conditions and transit spending.

While the Reason Foundation’s annual highway report ranked those states at the top of its highway conditions list, the assessment found that across the country states struggling with bridge and road repairs and urban congestion are contributing to an overall decline in highway conditions.

“In looking at the nation’s highway system as a whole, there was a decades-long trend of incremental improvement in most key categories, but the overall condition of the highway system has worsened in recent years,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, the assistant director of transportation at the Reason Foundation, a libertarian public policy group, and the lead author of the report. “This year we see some improvement on structurally deficient bridges, but pavement conditions on rural and urban highways are declining, the rise in traffic fatalities is worrying, and we aren’t making needed progress on traffic congestion in our major cities.”

North Dakota remained at the top of the rankings as it had in 2018, bolstered by its low urban fatality rate, low per-mile maintenance spending and good urban interstate pavement conditions. The state oversees 7,433 miles of state-controlled roads, and ranked third in per-mile maintenance disbursements, spending an average of $1,657 per mile, according to the report. The state’s combined capital and bridge, maintenance, and administrative disbursements per lane mile equated to $37,024.

The state also reported no poor conditions on its urban interstate mileage and less than one percent of its rural interstate mileage in poor condition. The report notes that the state could improve its overall rankings by reducing the percentage of its bridges deemed “structurally deficient.”   

Virginia jumped from 27th in the ranking in 2018 to second place overall this year, helped in part by work to reduce its number of structurally deficient bridges, the report found.

While Virginia has the third largest state-controlled highway system in the country, totaling 58,861miles, it keeps total per-mile costs well below the national average. The state spends $37,875 per state-controlled lane mile, compared to the national average of $71,117 per lane-mile, according to the report.

Urban congestion is one of the biggest issues the state will have to address to increase its rankings, report states.

“Virginia is in the bottom 15 of all states and has three of the most congested Interstate corridors in the country,” Feigenbaum said.

Missouri, which oversees 33,981 miles of state-controlled highway, was ranked third overall in the report. The state ranked 9th last year. The state received high marks for its low per-mile capital and bridge disbursements and total overall per-mile costs—the state spends a total of $23,534 per mile of highway it controls. It has room to improve by reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges and its urban fatality rate, according to the report.

The states spending the most per mile include New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut, which all spend more than $200,000 per mile of state-controlled highway.  The report notes that most states ranked in the top 20 “are able to maintain a good quality system at a low overall cost.”

The report places New Jersey at the bottom of the rankings for its high spending, poor road conditions and congestion. New Jersey has raised its gas tax 27 cents in the last three years, but the report casts doubt on whether those revenues will be able to significantly improve deficiencies.

“Unfortunately, due to system inefficiency including high costs, we remain skeptical that the increased revenue will improve the overall system,” the report’s authors wrote.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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