What determines the quality of a road? According to experts, how well their surfaces are built or repaired, how congested they are with traffic, the number of fatalities and bridge conditions, among other things. A new study looks at these factors by state to determine which have the highest quality roads and which have the worst. One of the least densely populated states in American took the top position.
The Reason Foundation’s 24th Annual Highway Report is based on state data provided to the federal government. Among other things, the study examined how quickly roads deteriorate compared to how quickly they are repaired. The report looks at state-owned highway systems and how they fared from 1984 to 2016. The results were based on 13 measures, which, in turn, were grouped under categories: highway expenditures per mile, interstate and primary road pavement conditions, urbanized area congestion, bridge conditions and fatality rates. North Dakota finished first in the ratings.
Even though the investment nationwide in highways has risen, it has not been enough to offset decay. While modest increases in spending can significantly improve roads, some states have not made them.
While North Dakota rated first, population density and state size by square mile were not the primary reasons some states did well and others did not. The report indicates that “Unlike prior years, the top-performing states tend to be a mix of high-population and low population states. Very rural states may have a slight advantage. While rural North Dakota led the rankings for the second year in a row, Virginia and Missouri, two of the 20 most populated states in the country, were 2nd and 3rd. Maine and Kentucky rounded out the top five states.”
No geographic or square mileage relationship existed among the states that did poorly: Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island. What they did have in common is that they are states that the researchers deem “difficult to improve.” While there are some differences among them, they share one thing in common. They have no money or building capacity to improve their roads faster than they fall apart. North Dakota, however, has both a reasonably good infrastructure and the capacity to repair its roads at a good pace. Ironically, some of the best-maintained state roads are in states with the lowest volume of traffic fatalities.
Overall Highway Performance Rankings, 2016
1. North Dakota
14. South Dakota
16. West Virginia
17. North Carolina
20. South Carolina
21. New Mexico
24. New Hampshire
45. New York
48. Rhode Island
50. New Jersey