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

Last Updated: 11/3/2021
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While state and local governments spend billions each year on road maintenance and operations, a new analysis from MoneyGeek suggests 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:
  • Roughly 1 in every 10 miles of road in the United States is in poor condition.
  • Rhode Island and California were the states ranked worst for road roughness, with 40% and 37% of roads in poor condition, respectively.
  • Idaho and New Hampshire had the least rough roads and spent some of the lowest in capital outlay per mile ($6.32 and $8.61, respectively).
  • States generally spend in proportion to how much their roads are utilized, reflecting 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 and 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 state's international roughness index (IRI). 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. For example, California's roughness index score of 144 means that the state's road conditions are borderline acceptable as an average. In reality, 37% of California’s roads are considered to be in poor condition, and the state ranks third in the country for worst road conditions, behind only Washington, D.C. and Rhode Island.

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)

District of Columbia

1

214.9

80%

2%

1

$131.29

$611

Rhode Island

2

147.4

40%

24%

6

$33.35

$655

California

3

143.8

37%

24%

15

$18.90

$19,310

Hawaii

4

143.1

31%

25%

3

$38.59

$830

Nebraska

5

137.6

32%

33%

45

$4.44

$1,742

Wisconsin

6

137.0

28%

24%

21

$11.74

$4,743

New York

7

132.6

29%

33%

5

$36.68

$14,151

Massachusetts

8

130.4

31%

36%

14

$19.74

$3,242

New Jersey

9

129.7

29%

42%

4

$36.76

$5,102

Michigan

10

127.1

25%

37%

35

$7.50

$5,270

Washington

11

120.7

22%

40%

18

$13.81

$4,678

Pennsylvania

12

120.0

21%

41%

8

$29.14

$11,256

Illinois

13

118.5

19%

41%

19

$13.30

$7,492

Colorado

14

118.0

18%

41%

32

$8.15

$3,270

New Mexico

15

116.9

22%

44%

48

$3.57

$1,011

Louisiana

16

116.6

23%

33%

27

$9.46

$2,229

Texas

17

115.3

19%

43%

10

$26.89

$24,247

Iowa

18

113.6

18%

40%

39

$6.62

$2,943

Ohio

19

112.2

20%

49%

17

$13.96

$6,057

Montana

20

111.6

19%

50%

50

$3.04

$963

Indiana

21

109.2

14%

45%

28

$9.41

$3,286

South Dakota

22

108.7

15%

43%

49

$3.16

$985

Maryland

23

107.3

19%

55%

9

$27.70

$3,733

Connecticut

24

107.1

15%

49%

11

$23.55

$2,097

Virginia

25

106.7

12%

48%

16

$17.25

$5,443

North Dakota

26

105.0

16%

51%

47

$4.15

$1,240

Mississippi

27

104.4

16%

53%

43

$5.37

$1,742

South Carolina

28

104.0

11%

48%

31

$8.58

$2,277

Arkansas

29

103.7

13%

49%

46

$4.21

$1,685

Oregon

30

103.3

13%

51%

42

$5.39

$2,313

Delaware

31

101.0

11%

52%

2

$38.94

$817

Maine

32

97.7

15%

55%

38

$6.70

$918

Wyoming

33

91.6

12%

54%

41

$5.46

$669

West Virginia

34

91.2

11%

56%

24

$10.39

$1,538

North Carolina

35

89.7

8%

56%

12

$21.19

$6,610

Kentucky

36

89.5

8%

61%

33

$8.09

$2,248

Missouri

37

89.3

10%

64%

44

$4.61

$2,590

Utah

38

88.9

6%

62%

20

$11.75

$2,174

Minnesota

39

88.6

7%

63%

25

$10.00

$5,040

Alaska

40

87.2

6%

63%

13

$19.82

$1,317

Kansas

41

86.2

9%

64%

51

$2.96

$1,707

Nevada

42

85.9

8%

61%

22

$11.08

$1,950

Vermont

43

83.0

6%

66%

29

$9.32

$648

Tennessee

44

80.4

8%

67%

36

$7.39

$2,718

Arizona

45

79.7

10%

45%

23

$11.03

$2,801

Oklahoma

46

78.9

11%

35%

34

$8.00

$2,826

Georgia

47

78.1

4%

72%

26

$9.54

$4,459

Florida

48

78.0

5%

70%

7

$29.70

$12,143

Alabama

49

74.990

7%

75%

37

$7.20

$2,851

New Hampshire

50

74.5

8%

74%

30

$8.61

$775

Idaho

51

59.3

7%

41%

40

$6.32

$1,148

Relationship Between State Spending And Road Conditions

Analysis of all 50 states shows that states generally spend proportionately to the vehicle miles traveled; however, there are exceptions. Texas, New York and Pennsylvania all spend proportionately more than the vehicle miles traveled, and California spends 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, there is 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 (to fix them). Additionally, tax-friendly states don’t have the worst roads. 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.

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 to improve roads has historically boosted economic growth. Especially during 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, along with a harder time finding cheap car insurance for consumers.

Methodology

MoneyGeek determined how states rank on the condition of their 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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