NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

America's Roads Aren't Crumbling

April 5, 2013

Every year when the snow melts and the potholes are revealed, politicians give their annual lecture about the poor state of America's infrastructure. While there is no doubt that the roads could use improvement, America's state-owned highway infrastructure is not crumbling as claimed, says David Hartgen, an adjunct scholar at the Reason Foundation.

Between 1989 and 2008:

  • The percentage of rural interstates rated as "poor" declined by two-thirds, from 6.6 percent to 1.9 percent.
  • Urban interstates with poor pavement dropped from 6.6 percent to 5.4 percent, while rural primary poor pavement improved from 2.8 percent to 0.5 percent.
  • Despite constant warnings, deficient bridges improved from 37.8 percent to 23.7 percent.
  • Fatality rates improved from 2.16 to 1.25 per 100 million miles driven, and even urban interstate congestion declined from 52.6 percent to 48.6 percent.

During the period of 1989 to 2008, spending on state-owned highways increased by more than 181 percent and spending per mile increased an inflation-adjusted 60 percent.

  • The rise in funding helped lower the fatality rate in every state.
  • Forty states reduced their number of deficient bridges, with states like Mississippi and Nebraska cutting their number of deficient bridges in half.
  • Thirty-seven states improved the condition of their rural interstates, most in the 1990s, while rural interstates in two states, California and New York, worsened by more than 5 percent.
  • Twenty-seven states improved the condition of their urban interstates, led by Nevada and Missouri, which both lower their percent of interstates in poor condition by more than 45 percent between 1989 and 2008.
  • Twenty-nine states reduced urban interstate congestion between 1989 and 2008, led by six states that reported improvements greater than 20 percent, though 18 states reported worsening congestion.

A recent Reason Foundation report tracks seven measures: urban and rural interstate condition, deficient bridges, congestion, fatalities, rural primary road condition and narrow rural roads. With 37 states improving in at least five of the seven metrics, it is clear that America's roads and bridges are not crumbling.  On average, the states that improved the most spent less than the national average, which points to inefficiency among the poor performers.

Source: David Hartgen, "The Myth of Crumbling Highways," Foundation for Economic Education, April 1, 2013. David Hartgen, M. Gregory Fields, Elizabeth San José, "Are Highways Crumbling?" Reason Foundation, February 2013. 


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