U.S. Roads in Good Shape

February 26, 2013

President Obama's new infrastructure plan calls for spending $40 billion on urgent upgrades, but the state of U.S. infrastructure may not be as bad as commonly thought. A new Reason Foundation study by David Hartgen, M. Gregory Fields and Elizabeth San Jose that tracks the condition of U.S. highways over the last 20 year suggests the additional funds and rhetoric about a dilapidated infrastructure system are unnecessary.

  • Hartgen, Fields and San Jose track spending per mile and measure 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.
  • Between 1989 and 2008, all states lowered their highway fatality rates and 40 states reduced their percentages of deficient bridges.
  • Eleven states made progress in all seven areas , 37 states improved in at least five of the seven metrics, and the percentage of urban Interstates with poor pavement condition dropped slightly from 6.6 percent in 1989 to 5.4 percent in 2008.

As spending per mile increased on both state-controlled roads and state-administered roads, U.S. roads are actually in better shape than they have ever been.

  • Spending on state-controlled highways increased 177 percent from $52,000 per mile in 1989 to $145,000 per mile in 2008.
  • In the same time period, the percentage of deficient bridges fell from 37.8 percent to 23.7 percent nationwide but rose in Hawaii, Alaska, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Arizona, Utah, Ohio, South Carolina and Oregon.
  • The percentage of urban Interstates in poor condition across the United States fell 1.2 percent from 6.6 percent in 1989 to 5.4 percent in 2008.
  • The percentage of rural Interstates in poor condition fell by 4.7 percent from 6.6 percent in 1989 to 1.9 percent in 2008, though the report notes most of this progress occurred before 1999.

Source: David Hartgen, M. Gregory Fields and Elizabeth San Jose, "Examining 20 Years of U.S. Highway and Bridge Performance Trends," Reason Foundation, February 21, 2013.

 

Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues