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Road Conditions & Spending by State: Does More Money Mean Better Roads?

Last Updated: 10/12/2022
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State and local governments spend billions each year on road maintenance and operations, but does it amount to better roads for taxpayers?

MoneyGeek analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Census Bureau to learn more about America’s urban road infrastructure, find the states with the best and worst road quality and determine if more state spending translated to better roads.

Our findings suggest that taxpayers are not necessarily getting their money’s worth. At best, they are getting just enough road investment to maintain the current condition of roads, but not enough to improve them.

Key Findings:
  • About 1 in 10 U.S. roads are in poor condition, but urban roads are even worse: 1 in 5 are in poor condition.
  • California and Rhode Island were the states ranked worst for road roughness, with 44% and 41% of roads in poor condition, respectively.
  • New Hampshire and Alabama had the best roads in the U.S. and spent some of the lowest capital outlay per mile ($9.82 and $6.44, respectively).
  • States generally spend in proportion to how much their roads are utilized, reflecting both the need to address wear and tear and how roads are funded — typically, via gas taxes.
  • However, how much each state spends on roads has no correlation with road quality after adjusting for vehicle miles.

Roughest Roads & Infrastructure Spending by State

MoneyGeek analyzed overall road quality and the investment levels per lane mile in every state and found that more spending on roads did not necessarily lead to better road quality.

The road roughness index is the weighted average value of the observed measurements of the international roughness index (IRI) for the state. The Federal Highway Administration indicates that an IRI measure of less than 95 indicates a road in good condition, between 95 and 170 is acceptable, and greater than 170 is poor condition.

For example, California's roughness index score of 160 means that the state's road conditions are borderline acceptable, on average. In reality, 44% of California’s roads are in poor condition, the most of any state in the U.S.

State
Road Roughness Rank (#1 = Worst)
Road Roughness Index
% Poor Condition
% Good Condition
Capital Outlay Rank
Capital Outlays per Lane Mile
Total Highway Spend ($Ms)

California

1

160.3

44%

22%

9

$23.16

$31,971

Rhode Island

2

149.0

41%

27%

1

$42.37

$1,270

Nebraska

3

140.6

33%

33%

42

$5.66

$3,076

Wisconsin

4

139.4

28%

25%

23

$11.32

$7,503

New York

5

136.6

30%

34%

8

$24.84

$16,612

Hawaii

6

134.1

25%

28%

5

$28.87

$1,056

Massachusetts

7

131.0

31%

37%

12

$21.03

$4,970

Louisiana

8

128.3

26%

36%

30

$9.66

$3,478

Michigan

9

127.6

24%

38%

37

$7.74

$7,757

New Jersey

10

123.4

26%

44%

3

$30.39

$6,971

Washington

11

121.8

22%

41%

17

$15.64

$7,717

New Mexico

12

120.3

23%

42%

46

$4.30

$1,778

Pennsylvania

13

119.9

20%

41%

6

$27.57

$18,001

Iowa

14

119.1

19%

39%

38

$7.59

$5,083

Texas

15

118.3

20%

43%

14

$19.12

$32,693

Colorado

16

118.2

18%

41%

32

$9.23

$5,181

Illinois

17

116.9

19%

43%

16

$16.97

$13,687

Montana

18

112.0

20%

50%

49

$3.45

$1,560

Ohio

19

111.3

19%

49%

18

$15.14

$10,370

South Dakota

20

108.7

14%

48%

47

$4.16

$1,903

Maryland

21

108.2

19%

55%

7

$25.33

$5,282

Virginia

22

106.9

13%

49%

13

$20.22

$8,935

Arkansas

23

106.9

15%

50%

44

$5.16

$2,889

Oklahoma

24

106.4

15%

51%

34

$8.45

$4,976

Mississippi

25

105.8

16%

51%

43

$5.36

$2,624

Oregon

26

105.4

14%

51%

41

$6.04

$3,451

Connecticut

27

105.0

14%

51%

10

$22.92

$3,151

North Dakota

28

103.0

14%

53%

48

$4.08

$1,939

South Carolina

29

101.2

10%

51%

31

$9.24

$3,911

Indiana

30

100.8

13%

53%

27

$10.76

$5,795

Idaho

31

99.5

16%

61%

35

$8.32

$2,361

Delaware

32

99.5

10%

57%

2

$31.77

$1,173

Arizona

33

99.5

12%

52%

22

$11.81

$4,783

West Virginia

34

98.9

12%

57%

21

$13.55

$2,933

Wyoming

35

97.2

12%

56%

39

$6.69

$1,207

North Carolina

36

92.5

8%

58%

15

$18.35

$10,144

Vermont

37

91.2

10%

63%

28

$10.64

$1,006

Utah

38

90.6

7%

61%

19

$14.82

$4,100

Maine

39

90.1

12%

62%

26

$10.84

$1,669

Alaska

40

89.7

7%

61%

11

$22.32

$2,162

Missouri

41

89.4

10%

63%

45

$5.06

$4,170

Kentucky

42

88.5

7%

61%

33

$9.09

$3,972

Nevada

43

87.9

9%

60%

20

$14.79

$3,847

Kansas

44

86.6

10%

64%

50

$3.22

$2,761

Tennessee

45

83.1

8%

68%

36

$8.04

$4,597

Minnesota

46

81.8

4%

68%

25

$10.85

$8,602

Florida

47

78.6

5%

71%

4

$29.37

$20,356

Georgia

48

77.2

5%

72%

24

$10.88

$8,023

Alabama

49

74.1

5%

75%

40

$6.44

$3,987

New Hampshire

50

71.9

7%

74%

29

$9.82

$1,129

Relationship Between State Spending & Road Conditions

MoneyGeek’s analysis of all 50 states shows that states generally spend proportionately to the vehicle miles traveled; however, there are exceptions. New York and Pennsylvania both spend proportionately more than the vehicle miles traveled, and California spends proportionately less.

Regardless of how much money they spend on road conditions, states are using available funds to maintain — not fix or improve — crumbling roads.

After adjusting for vehicle miles, MoneyGeek found no correlation between spending and road conditions. If states were working to improve their roads, the worse the roads, the more the state would be spending (in order to fix them). Additionally, our analysis found that many of the most tax-friendly states in the U.S. had fairly good road quality. They are trying to keep roads in working order, just as states with higher taxes are.

Who Pays For Roads?

Three-quarters of spending to maintain and fix roads and highways comes from state and local governments. According to the Urban Institute, the average state spends nearly 8% of its budget on roads. The rate of investment has not changed much over time. In 1977, 8% of state and local budgets combined went toward roads and highways, compared with 6% in 2017. It's no wonder state highways are the deadliest type of road in the U.S., accounting for 33% of all traffic fatalities.

Through the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), the federal government provides grants to states to maintain and improve the Interstate Highway System. Funded by transportation-related taxes such as gasoline and diesel taxes, the HTF spends more than it raises in revenue. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the fund ran a $16 billion deficit in 2020. The CBO’s projections predict that the fund, which has relied on transfers from general tax funds since 2008, will be depleted by 2023.

Expert Panel: The Economic Impact of Road Improvements and Neglect

  1. How is highway improvement usually funded?
  2. What is the impact of investment in road improvement? What are the implications when states do not invest in such improvements?
  3. How do poor roads impact drivers?
  4. Are there broader impacts of poor roads on communities or local economies?
  5. Would COVID-19 Infrastructure spending be an effective economic stimulus?
  6. Is there anything you'd like to add about the relationship between the quality of roads, state budgets and state or local economic indicators?
James Golden
James Golden

Founder and CEO

Murray Rowden
Murray Rowden

Americas Managing Director & Global Head of Infrastructure at Turner & Townsend

Jerry Wilson
Jerry Wilson

Chief Editor at Complete Auto Guide

Why Are Roads in Good Repair Important?

Quality roads and highways are essential to the broader U.S. economy. Most consumer goods travel along the nation’s highways, and investing in improving roads has historically boosted economic growth. As the country continues to struggle with pandemic-related economic setbacks, such infrastructure investment could create much-needed jobs and help people financially.

For example, poor road conditions translate directly into higher car repair and maintenance costs and a harder time finding cheap car insurance for consumers. Drivers in states with rough road conditions may need to purchase collision insurance to protect themselves in case of pothole damage, which is typically part of a full coverage car insurance package. Full coverage car insurance can cost drivers hundreds more every year, compared to more affordable liability-only insurance options.

Methodology

MoneyGeek determined how states rank on the condition of their urban and suburban roads and their highway infrastructure spending by comparing the roughness measure of each state's urban and suburban highways and state and local (municipal and county) government expenditures on their highway system. We used the metrics below to establish final scores and rankings:

  • Road Roughness Index: We developed a composite roughness score of all major urban roadways in each state by weighting each category of measured pavement roughness and aggregating this information across the entire state system.
  • Percentage Poor vs. Good Condition: We designated each category of measured pavement roughness into larger groupings and compared the number of lane miles across the state by groupings of higher and lower pavement roughness.
  • Capital Outlays per Lane Mile: This value is calculated as the total state expenditure on capital outlays for highways divided by the total lane miles in each state's functional road system.
  • Total Highway Spend: This value is calculated as the total state expenditure on both capital outlays and other expenditures for highways.

About the Author


expert-profile

Deb Gordon is author of The Health Care Consumer’s Manifesto (Praeger 2020), a book about shopping for health care, based on consumer research she conducted as a senior fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government between 2017 and 2019. Her research and writing have been published in JAMA Network Open, the Harvard Business Review blog, USA Today, RealClear Politics, TheHill, and Managed Care Magazine. Deb previously held health care executive roles in health insurance and health care technology services. Deb is an Aspen Institute Health Innovators Fellow, and an Eisenhower Fellow, for which she traveled to Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore to explore the role of consumers in high-performing health systems. She was a 2011 Boston Business Journal 40-under-40 honoree, and a volunteer in MIT’s Delta V start-up accelerator, the Fierce Healthcare Innovation Awards, and in various mentorship programs. She earned a BA in bioethics from Brown University, and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.


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