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

ByDeb Gordon

Updated: April 2, 2023

ByDeb Gordon

Updated: April 2, 2023

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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.


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.


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. Better roads mean lower costs to deliver goods due to lower maintenance and gas costs. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in late 2021 is expected to spur economic growth as funds are deployed on infrastructure projects including the repair of crumbling roads.

For the consumer, poor road conditions translate directly into higher car repair and maintenance costs. They may even have a harder time finding cheap car insurance due to increased claims. Drivers in states with rough road conditions that don't want to be left paying for damage due to potholes should purchase full coverage car insurance. Full coverage includes collision insurance which is the provision that insures damages to your car, unlike liability-only insurance which will only cover damages you owe to others in accidents where you are at fault. Full coverage car insurance can cost drivers hundreds more every year than liability-only, but there are affordable options and the coverage you get is worth it.


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 Deb Gordon

Deb Gordon headshot

Deb Gordon is the co-founder and CEO of Umbra Health Advocacy, and 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 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.