North Dakota Tops Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report

North Dakota's Badlands
A road traversing North Dakota's Badlands. The state also topped Reason Foundation’s previous Annual Highway Report. (garylestrangephotography/Getty Images)

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North Dakota has the best state-owned road system in the country, according to Reason Foundation’s recently released Annual Highway Report.

The research group’s 25th Annual Highway Report, published Nov. 19, is based on spending and performance data submitted by state highway agencies to the federal government, as well as congestion data from Inrix Inc. States’ overall highway performance was determined using data from 2018 and 2019.

Pavement condition, congestion, structurally deficient bridges and traffic fatality rates were evaluated as well.

North Dakota, Missouri and Kansas were the top three states on the overall highway performance rankings. New Jersey placed last.

North Dakota’s ranking starts a streak, as the state also topped Reason Foundation’s previous Annual Highway Report. The state maintains 8,624 road miles of highway and 1,725 bridges, according to its Department of Transportation.



“The finding of this year’s report illustrates that preserving roads early is a good investment,” NDDOT Director William Panos said. “The Reason Foundation report is a reflection of the department’s efforts to put as much of its revenues as possible onto the roads and bridges. It also shows that there is more work to do as we need to focus on state bridges and make timely investments in many areas.”

In terms of individual criteria, North Dakota ranked No. 21 in overall fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled and No. 42 in percentage of structurally deficient bridges. It ranked third-lowest in terms of annual peak hours spent in congestion per auto commuter.

In general, the report indicates the quality and safety of the nation’s highways have improved as spending on state roads increased by 9% since the previous report. In total, states distributed $151.8 billion for state-owned roads in 2018.

Reason Foundation's 25th Annual Highway Report by Transport Topics on Scribd

The size of a state’s highway system did not determine its place on the overall highway performance list. The report points out the states with the three largest highway networks — North Carolina, Texas and Virginia — all ranked within the top 21 entries. Meanwhile, states such as Hawaii and Rhode Island, which have small amounts of mileage, ranked poorly.

“Although it is tempting to ascribe these ratings to geography or population, a more careful review suggests that numerous factors, including terrain, climate, truck traffic volumes, urbanization and congestion, system age, budget priorities and maintenance practices all significantly impact state highway performance,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation and lead author of the report.

Kansas’ ranking at No. 3 in overall highway performance marks a three-spot increase from the previous report. The state’s worst rankings were in its rural traffic fatality rate (No. 45) and overall fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (No. 32).


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“We at the Kansas Department of Transportation are pleased the Reason Foundation ranked the Kansas Highway System third in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition,” KDOT spokesman Steve Hale said. “This recognition is tempered by the report’s acknowledgment of Kansas’ high overall fatality and high rural fatality rates. KDOT will continue to devote energies to improve safety and performance ratings for Kansas.”

The report also notes drivers in 11 states spent more than 50 hours per year in traffic congestion in 2019. In the three most congested states — Delaware, Illinois and Massachusetts — commuters spent over 100 hours per year sitting in traffic.

Overall traffic fatality rates decreased in 35 states. Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey reported the lowest fatality rates per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, while South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arizona had the highest rates.


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The South Carolina Department of Transportation has directed $3.3 billion to its construction program, placing an emphasis on rural road safety. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 1,037 traffic fatalities in South Carolina in 2018. Of those, 681 — more than 60% — occurred on rural roadways.

“State leadership has committed additional gas tax investment in our 10-year plan to improve rural road safety, resurface aging corridors, replace load-restricted bridges and improve our highways,” South Carolina Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said.

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