Does your state have too many cracks in its roads?
They’re all too familiar sights on American roads: small cracks that spider through black pavement or large potholes that send an unsettling jolt through any vehicles that drive over them.
Keeping roads in tip-top shape is very important—transporting people, products, and food to many parts of the country would be impossible without them—and yet the task often falls by the wayside. In fact, TRIP, a national transportation research group, found that around 15 percent of rural roads in the U.S. are in poor condition, and a further 21 percent are just mediocre. It doesn’t help that the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which has supported the construction and maintenance of United States Highways since 1956, will likely run dry in the next three years.
To be fair, maintaining the United States’ large, complex network of roads is a difficult task, even though states dedicate millions of dollars to keeping road pavement in top shape each year. To take a closer look at which states truly struggle to keep roads in pristine condition, the data scientists at Insurify did some research to discover the 10 states with the highest share of rural roads in poor condition.
To determine which states are in the most dire need of road repair, researchers at Insurify, a website for auto insurance quotes comparison, compiled data from a 2019 report by TRIP, a national transportation research group. In the report, mediocre roads are those where the pavement shows significant wear and possibly some visible distress. Poor roads are those that show signs of deterioration, including rutting, cracks, and potholes. Information on the percentage of rural roads in poor condition in each state, as well as fatality rate on rural, non-interstate roads, was taken from that report. Numbers on share of state expenditures dedicated to highways was taken from a 2017 data set on state-by-state spending put together by the United States Census Bureau, while data on the total number of lane miles statewide for each state in the top 10 comes from the Federal Highway Administration.
In the Granite State, 21 percent of rural roads were deemed to be in poor condition. However, New Hampshire has a rural road fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled of just 1.09, lower than all but two other states. That low number isn’t because of low rural population either. In New Hampshire, 38 percent of all people live in rural areas.
In addition to high spending on highways, Maine also has a low rural road fatality rate. The percentage of its state budget dedicated to transportation expenses is 22 percent greater than average. Despite this, there are still clear issues with Maine’s roadways, and the Pine Tree State is having difficulty combating them. Rising transportation costs caused the Maine Department of Transportation to cancel roughly $59 million worth of projects in May of 2019.
Alaska allocates nearly 11 percent of its budget to transportation costs, more than any other state in the top 10 and greater than all but three other states. Interestingly, though, its network of roadways is actually small compared to other states. Alaska has a total of just 31,597 lane miles statewide, according to data compiled by the Federal Highway Administration. Just four other states (and the District of Columbia) have fewer.
The percentage of rural roads in Mississippi in poor condition is 80 percent greater than the national average, and it dedicates less of its state budget to transportation than average. However, the Magnolia State hasn’t let all transportation issues fall by the wayside. The United States Department of Transportation recently awarded the state $52.4 million dedicated to improving a section of MS Highway 76, which connects two important Toyota production facilities.
Oklahoma has more total lane miles than all but one other state in the top 10, and spends nearly eight percent of its annual budget on improving the roadways. Even so, the fatality rate on rural roads is slightly above the state average. Additionally, 30 percent of Oklahoma’s roads are in poor condition, double the national mean.
No state has fewer total lane miles than Hawaii, at 9,781. It is understandable then, that roadway expenses take up a smaller percentage of the state budget. The percentage of state expenditure dedicated to roads in Hawaii is 66 percent smaller than the national average, and the lowest of any United States territory. Still, it’s clear that Hawaii could do some work improving its roads—its rate of roads in poor condition is twice the national average.
West Virginia’s fatality rate on rural roads is 19 percent higher than the national average, while its share of rural roads in poor condition is also significantly greater than average. However, the state seems committed to fixing the problem. In an effort to greatly improve its network of roads, West Virginia introduced its Roads to Prosperity program in 2017. The initiative aims to complete over 700 projects statewide, and has nearly three billion dollars in funding.
New Mexico has the second lowest fatality rate of any state in the top 10, and the third lowest percentage of its state budget dedicated to highways. An increase in funding is clearly needed for the Land of Enchantment, which had over $1 billion in identified road repair needs in January 2019 according to the Department of Transportation. A state budget surplus might help matters, as advocates for improving the road system have proposed the usage of $300-400 million dollars to begin revamping the road system.
The nation’s second-largest network of roads belongs to California. The coastal state has nearly 400,000 miles of roads. Only Texas, which has nearly 700,000 miles of roadway, has a more prolific transportation system. However, California’s massive network of roads is also home to some reckless drivers, evidently. The Golden State has a fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled of 3.16, which is nearly 50 percent greater than the national average and second-highest in the country.
No state has a bigger need for road repairs than Rhode Island. The state only has 12,741 total lane miles—second-fewest of any state in the U.S.—but an astonishing 39 percent of roads in the state are in poor condition, a figure that’s 160 percent more than the national average. The state’s fatality rate is also above average, and Rhode Island spends less of its yearly budget on the roads than the national average. The state is, however, trying to fix the problem, with Department of Transportation-sponsored projects to improve both highway and bridge safety.
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