The State of Federal Highways and Bridges [New 2019]
UPDATED: Apr 3, 2020
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Most drivers have accidentally driven into a pothole, bottomed out on a bumpy road, or detoured because of painstaking highway construction. The truth is much of America’s roads and bridges are reaching a state of decay, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on repair and reconstruction every year.
As citizens, this potentially concerns not only our taxes and insurance policies but also our safety. For that reason, we decided to take a deep dive into the state of American infrastructure.
We analyzed data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to examine road and bridge conditions around the country. In the process, we discovered geographic weak spots, trends in funding, and some of the most and least up-to-date American highways. Read on to see where you can drive the most safely – and where you might need to exercise extra caution.
Assessing America’s Roads
Car safety has dramatically increased in the last few decades, but thousands of people still find themselves in motor vehicle crashes every year. In fact, 34,247 fatal car accidents took place in 2017, and it’s safe to assume that roads in disrepair certainly didn’t add to their safety.
Our researchers examined trends in U.S. highway conditions over time. The percentage of roads in good condition increased by 7% between 2008 and 2017, while the percentage of roads in poor condition simultaneously increased by 25%.
According to the most recent data from the FHWA, less than half of urban roads (46%) were in good condition compared to 65% of rural roads. Urban areas were also the most likely to have roads in poor condition at 20%.
The good news, however, is that highways are mostly in decent shape: Nearly 60% of highways were rated in good condition, while 31% were rated as acceptable.
Health of Highways
Any driver will likely tell you: Not all highways are pleasant, and some areas are notorious for dangerous, bumpy drives. We looked into states with the best and worst highway conditions.
Portions of New England had the worst highways. Rhode Island stood out with 38% of its highways rated as poor. Twenty-eight percent of highways in Massachusetts and 26% of highways in New Jersey were also in poor condition, followed by California, Hawaii, and Alaska.
Meanwhile, the majority of highways in Kansas were in good condition (84%).
Nevada followed at 83%, and then Florida at 80%, with Alabama and North Dakota tied at 79% apiece. Our maps also indicate that much of the Midwest and South have better highway conditions.
Trends in Funding
While traffic and weather conditions can certainly affect American roads, funding might also play a role. Our analysis suggests that total funding for American roads provided by the FHWA’s Highway Trust Fund has dramatically changed over the last decade, but more funding – $45 million – was funneled toward roads in 2018 than in the previous 10 years.
There was a five-year period of decreased funding starting in 2011, with 2015 being the least-funded year at $39.1 million. Funding per mile of road also declined during this period, although it also stood at a 10-year high in 2018 at around $10,800 per mile. Also, the amount of funding significantly varied depending on the region.
Rhode Island had the second-highest funding ($39,100 per mile) despite the worst highway conditions. Meanwhile, Kansas had the least amount of funding – $2,800 per mile – but the best-rated highways.
Nevertheless, the discrepancies in funding likely have to do with the quality of the roads, meaning states that need more repairs might get more funding. Hawaii, Rhode Island, Alaska, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut had the most funding per mile of road, while Kansas, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa had the least funding per mile.
Fortunately, dangerous roads don’t always correlate to bad drivers. A recent study that ranks the states with the best and worst drivers found New Jersey to have the fourth-best drivers despite having some of the worst road conditions in the entire country.
How do highway conditions stack up to their funding? According to our analysis, it really depends on the region. Rhode Island, for example, had the worst highways despite having the second-highest funding per mile.
Meanwhile, Kansas had the best-rated highways and the least funding per mile. These relationships do potentially make sense since funding might be dependent on the needs of the highways – in other words, Rhode Island’s highways are bad, so it needs more funding to fix them.
However, some states don’t fit this trend. Connecticut, for example, had a fairly average number of highways in poor condition at 14%. Nevertheless, the state had an unusually high amount of funding at $24,900 per mile.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts had the second-worst highways and not a lot of funding to work with – only $17,600 per mile.
Recent news shows that poorly built bridges in a state of neglect or disrepair can have dire consequences. In 2018, a 174-foot-long pedestrian bridge with compromised structural integrity and significant cracks collapsed in Miami and killed six people.
The incident prompted many to call for better safety standards and monitoring, but many bridges are still used despite their less-than-ideal conditions.
Nearly 9% of bridges in the U.S. were in poor condition in 2017. In fact, Americans drive about 122.2 million miles on interstate bridges in poor condition daily, along with 76.5 million miles on principal arterial bridges in poor condition and 40.4 million miles on expressway and freeway bridges in poor condition.
However, there is a silver lining: The overall percentage of bridges in poor condition has gradually dropped in the last decade. Around 12% of bridges were in bad shape in 2007, for example, compared to 8.9% in 2017.
We have bad news for people with gephyrophobia – the fear of bridges. Our analysis of government data suggests that the average state had 933.5 bridges in poor condition. Rhode Island had the largest portion of bridges in a poor state at 23%, followed by Iowa, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.
Even so, several states – particularly in the South and Midwest – stood out for good bridge conditions. Sixty-nine percent of bridges in Florida, for example, were rated as good, followed by California, Mississippi, Minnesota, and Arizona, all of which had at least 60% of bridges in good shape. On average, each state had 5,646.3 bridges in good condition. In other words, the odds of crossing a good-quality bridge are in our favor.
What We’ve Learned
The U.S. has plenty of room for improvement when it comes to roads, bridges, and highways. American bridges received a C+ on the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, while American roads received a D rating. We parsed through data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to further identify those weak spots and to see how infrastructure conditions could affect us depending on where we live.
While we can’t always control the roads we drive on, we can take action to protect ourselves. To learn more about how you can safeguard yourself and your family with affordable, quality insurance, visit Autoinsurance.org. Our team can compare quotes from the top auto insurance companies to help you save and achieve true peace of mind.
For this project, we used data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). To examine road conditions and funding from the FHWA’s Highway Trust Fund, we used data from the FHWA’s Federal Highway Statistics, 2017. For data on the condition of U.S. bridges, we used the dataset Bridge Condition by Highway System 2017, which is included in the FHWA’s National Bridge Inventory Report.
To show year-over-year data for bridge condition, we used the FHWA’s Bridge Condition by Functional Classification dataset from 2000 to 2018. Because the most recent Highway Statistics Series report shows data for 2017, we excluded 2018 data from the bridge conditions.
Only U.S. states are included in our analysis; Washington, D.C., and outlying areas are not included. No statistical testing was performed.
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