Driven to Perfection
Every year when the snow melts, communities around the country set about fixing the potholes and cracks that winter snow plows and chained tires have dug into their roads. As cash-strapped states weigh where their road-repair budgets should go in 2011, MainStreet decided to take a look at the most recent data to determine which states had the best and worst roads in the country.
>>Click here for a video breakdown of the top five states!
Last week we looked at the 10 states with the worst roads, with Louisiana taking the dubious honor of having the worst roads in the country. Click here to see our video of that ranking.
This week we decided to take a look at the 10 best. We’ll count them down from 10 to one after an overview of the methodology, so read to the end to see where your state ranks!
Photo Credit: Zaheer Mohiuddin
Measuring a Road
To come up with a way to measure the quality of a state’s road system, we analyzed four metrics, ranked each state on each indicator, and pooled the results to generate a cumulative ranking for all 50 states. We left out Washington, D.C., and avoided bringing money into the equation at all, since expenses on road maintenance tell us nothing more than how much money was spent on the roads, not what condition they are in. Instead we looked at:
1. Poor-Condition Mileage. To compare the percentage of each state’s roads deemed to be in “poor condition” we looked at 2008 numbers put together in a comprehensive report by the Reason Foundation. We combined the rankings for rural interstates, urban interstates and other rural and urban roads to get a unified ranking for road condition.
2. Deficient or Obsolete Bridges. Because bridges and overpasses make up an important part of roads everywhere, we looked at 2009 bridge condition data from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.
3. Fatalities. To get an idea of road safety, we looked at the number of road fatalities per state in 2009 – measured per 100 million vehicle miles traveled to account for the different lengths of road in each state and the different usage of those roads – from the Federal Highway Administration.
4. Congestion. Since no assessment of “worst roads” would be complete without comparing traffic levels, we again used the Reason Foundation’s calculations, which normalize the various reporting standards used by each state to determine peak-hour volume-to-capacity ratios on each state’s roads.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
10th Best Roads: Georgia
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 50 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 37 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 20 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 20 out of 50
Leading off the 10 best roads is Georgia, which can claim absolute domination of one of the categories we looked at: The state has the lowest amount of poor-condition mileage in its public road system. That’s not bad for a hot and humid state that contains one of the country’s biggest metropolises, Atlanta. Remarkably, the state maintains its roads on a limited budget – on a per capita basis, Georgia received the second-lowest amount of funding from the Federal Highway Administration in 2009.
Photo Credit: S. Kaiser
9th Best Roads: Utah
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 18 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 44 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 36 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 30 out of 50
At number nine is Utah, which stands out for its impressive ranking for bridge conditions – with the sixth-lowest proportion of bridges deemed deficient or obsolete. That’s a significant achievement for a state whose biggest body of water (that many of the state’s bridges pass over) is full of highly corrosive salt, which can wreak havoc on iron bridge supports.
Photo Credit: Utah DOT
8th Best Roads: Maine
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 34 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 15 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 35 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 45 out of 50
Leading off a tie with Virginia for eighth, Maine obviously benefits from some degree of isolation. It’s one of the 10 least populous states in the country and, positioned as it is at the upper eastern extreme of the country, the road literally ends there. As such, its roads are the sixth-least congested, which helps keep the wear and tear down and contributes to Maine’s firm position in the top 10.
Photo Credit: Doug Kerr
8th Best Roads: Virginia
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 37 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 18 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 41 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 33 out of 50
Tied for eighth with Maine, Virginia may be struggling to keep its bridges in order, but the state can be proud of its high marks for road safety. Among the four categories that make up our ranking, Virginia ranks best for its 10th-lowest number of road deaths. And it looks like Virginia’s roads are only going to improve: Budget increases this year will go to repair many of those deficient bridges, as well as address safety concerns throughout the state.
Photo Credit: Virginia DOT
6th Best Roads: Illinois
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 22 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 42 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 42 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 26 out of 50
Illinois came in at number six in our ranking but its numbers show mixed success. It didn’t score very well for the condition of its roads or its high traffic congestion (the Chicago metro area is likely a big reason for this) but top-10 placings for the state’s well-maintained bridges and low number of fatal accidents were enough to compensate.
Photo Credit: Illinois DOT
5th Best Roads: Delaware
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 38 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 38 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 22 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 39 out of 50
At number five in our ranking is Delaware, which had quite good rankings in every category except one: fatalities. The state is obviously aware of the problem, creating a character made out of traffic barrels called Wally the Work Zone Warrior who greets visitors to the state’s Department of Transportation website and helps explain Delaware’s Strategic Highway Safety Program. If Wally is successful, the next version of this ranking might see Delaware place a few spots higher.
Photo Credit: Delaware DOT
4th Best Roads: Indiana
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 43 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 30 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 30 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 40 out of 50
Indiana, at number four, put up no standout numbers to earn its place on the best roads ranking. It had top-10 rankings in two categories (Road conditions and traffic congestion), and ranked better than half of all states for its low number of deficient bridges and traffic fatalities.
Photo Credit: Jason Riedy
3rd Best Roads: Kansas
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 48 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 33 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 26 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 41 out of 50
OK, we know it’s just a movie, but the beautiful yellow-brick roads in the Wizard of Oz – despite not being “in Kansas anymore” – may have some basis in reality. Kansas, taking the bronze medal in the best roads ranking, can boast of having the third-lowest proportion of poor-condition mileage in the country. That and its low levels of congestion make up for the state’s less impressive rankings for fatalities and deficient bridges, enough to put Kansas in the top three. But it may be a tenuous position – after all, if a tornado could uproot Dorothy’s house, it can certainly do a number on the state’s roads. A recent study from Kansas City meteorologist Jon Davies confirms that Kansas has had more severe tornadoes than any other state.
Photo Credit: Claire Schmitt
2nd Best Roads: North Dakota
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 45 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 31 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 24 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 50 out of 50
The runner-up spot in the best roads ranking goes to North Dakota, whose second-lowest population density in the country (9.7 people per square mile, according to the 2010 census) means quite simply that the state’s roads are not the most well-traveled in the country. The numbers bear that conclusion, as the state’s two standout rankings include the lowest traffic congestion in the nation and the sixth-lowest proportion of poor-condition mileage in its public road system in the country. That being said, North Dakota ranks in the top half of states for the most traffic fatalities, due in part to the fact that the state has some of the highest speed limits in the country. One look at the North Dakota DOT website confirms that the state is aware that this is a problem it needs to address.
Photo Credit: Nic McPhee
The Best Roads in the U.S.: New Mexico
Poor-Condition Mileage Rank (1=most): 47 out of 50
Deficient Bridges Rank (1=most): 43 out of 50
Fatalities Rank (1=most): 19 out of 50
Congestion Rank (1=most): 42 out of 50
The gold-medal winner in our ranking of the best roads in the U.S. goes to none other than New Mexico. The state could likely have won this competition on looks alone – the dramatic desert landscapes and cities like Taos and Albuquerque are definitely a national treasure. New Mexico didn’t win outright in any of the categories, but particularly good rankings for its road conditions, bridge conditions and traffic levels put it in the top spot. Of course, the picture is not all rosy – New Mexico is in the top half of all states for road fatalities, but efforts by the state’s department of transportation to curb cell phone use and deter drunk drivers should help keep those numbers down in the future.
Photo Credit: New Mexico DOT