Detailed Findings & Methodology
Some states face an uphill battle in maintaining infrastructure, as climate can have a considerable impact on road quality. When asphalt freezes and thaws, it can crack and begin to crumble, losing its integrity. As a result, road surfaces in states that face harsh winters have shorter lifespans. Perhaps not surprisingly, seven of the 10 states with the largest share of roadway in poor condition are in the Northeast, Midwest, and other regions that experience freezing temperatures.
States that invest more in their highways also tend to have better roads. States allocated an average of 5.5% of spending on highways in 2015. Of the 10 states with the smallest share of roadway in bad condition, seven allocate more than the 5.5% average across all states. Conversely, seven of the 10 states with the worst roads allocate a smaller share of spending to highways than the 5.5% average.
The consequences of crumbling infrastructure can be far more dire than vehicle damage caused by bad roads. An estimated 9.1% of America’s bridges are structurally deficient, meaning they require significant maintenance or all out replacement. Though higher traffic bridges are less likely to be structurally deficient, each day there are an estimated 188 million trips over structurally deficient bridges in the United States.
One of the deadliest bridge collapses in recent memory occurred in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2007, when an interstate highway bridge collapsed during rush hour. Due to the failure, more than 50 vehicles dropped into the Mississippi River about 60 feet below. Thirteen people died two dozen more were critically injured as a consequence. The bridge had been deemed structurally deficient since 1990.
Dams are also part of the critical infrastructure in need of repair in states nationwide. Dams can range in size from the iconic Hoover Dam in Nevada to dams that form smaller, neighborhood man-made lakes. No matter their size, dams need regular maintenance, and in many cases, a dam failure could be catastrophic. As engineering data improves, it is becomes increasingly clear that many older dams in the United States will not be able to withstand heavy sustained rains or earthquakes. And by 2025, 70% of all dams will be over 50 years old.
To identify the states with the worst infrastructure, 24/7 Wall St. created an index accounting for the share of roads in poor condition, the share of bridges classified as structurally deficient, and the share of dams at high hazard risk. States with the highest average score ranked as the worst, while states with lower average scores ranked as having the best infrastructure. The share of roadways in poor condition and the share of bridges considered structurally deficient came from the Federal Highway Administration’s report Highway Statistics 2015. The share of dams classified as high hazard potential came from the National Inventory of Dams, a database maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Association of State Dam Officials. Highway spending as a share of total government spending came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Annual Survey of State Government Finances.