Study: Condition of America’s Roads and Bridges Is Improving

Published March 4, 2013

President Barack Obama’s new infrastructure plan calls for spending $40 billion on “urgent upgrades.” But a new Reason Foundation report examining 20 years of state highway data finds the condition of America’s state-controlled roads has improved in seven key areas including deficient bridges and pavement condition. 

All 50 states lowered their highway fatality rates from 1989 to 2008 and 40 states reduced their percentages of deficient bridges during that time. Nationwide, the number of deficient bridges in the country fell from 37.8 percent of all bridges in 1989 to 23.7 percent in 2008. 

The Reason Foundation study tracks spending per mile on state-owned roads and measures road performance in seven categories: miles of urban Interstate highways in poor pavement condition, miles of rural Interstates in poor condition, congestion on urban Interstates, deficient bridges, highway fatalities, rural primary roads in poor condition and the number of rural primary roads flagged as too narrow. 

Improving in Most Categories

In the 20 years examined, 11 states (North Dakota, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Maine, Montana, Tennessee, Kansas, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Florida) made progress in all seven categories and 37 states improved in at least five of the seven metrics. 

California was the only state that failed to improve in at least three areas, making strides only in deficient bridges and fatalities. Five states—New York, Hawaii, Utah, Vermont and Mississippi—progressed in just three categories. 

Per-Mile Spending Surges

The Reason Foundation study finds the amount of state-controlled road mileage increased by just 0.6 percent from 1989 to 2008. However, spending per mile on state-administered roads grew by 60 percent, adjusted for inflation, during that time. Texas and Florida led the growth in spending, with Texas increasing its per mile spending by 174.5 percent and Florida raising its by 149.6 percent, adjusted for inflation. 

The percentage of urban Interstates with poor pavement condition dropped slightly from 6.6 percent in 1989 to 5.4 percent in 2008. Two states, Nevada and Missouri made remarkable turnarounds. In 1989, nearly half of their urban Interstates were in poor condition, but by 2008 less than 2 percent were in poor condition. 

The percentage of rural Interstates rated in poor condition was reduced by over two-thirds, from 6.60 percent in 1989 to 1.93 percent in 2008. However, almost all of the improvements came before 1999 and two states reported rural conditions worsening by more than five percentage points: New York and California. 

David T. Hartgen ([email protected]) is emeritus professor of transportation studies at University of North Carolina-Charlotte and a senior fellow at Reason Foundation.

Internet Info

“Are Highways Crumbling? State and U.S. Highway Performance Trends 1989-2008,” Reason Foundation: