Every year when the snow melts, cities, states, and local municipalities make plans to remedy the havoc that winter snow plows and chained tires have wreaked on 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 who had the worst roads in the country.
To do this, we analyzed four metrics, ranked each state on each indicator, and pooled the results to generate a cumulative ranking for all 50 states (sorry, D.C.). We avoided bringing money into the equation at all, since expenses on road maintenance tell us nothing more than how much money was spent on road repairs. After all, states that spent the most on their roads could be assumed to have the worst (the more repairs are needed, the more money will be spent), but also the best (more money spent on roads means, well, better roads). Instead we looked at:
• 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.
• Deficient or obsolete bridges. Because bridges and overpasses make up an important part of roads everywhere, we looked at 2009 bridge condition data (the most recent available) from the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration.
• 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 -- from the Federal Highway Administration.
• Congestion. We again used the Reason Foundation's calculations to determine peak-hour volume-to-capacity ratios on each state's roads.
Poor-condition mileage rank (1=most): 8 out of 50
Deficient bridges rank: 12 out of 50
Fatalities rank: 2 out of 50
Congestion rank: 23 out of 50
Nobody can doubt that Louisiana has had a rough decade. Hurricanes were part of the problem, causing material damage and the complications of evacuation and reconstruction, which put additional stress on the road system. The state ranked number two in fatalities in 2009 (after Montana), and high marks for poor-condition roads and bridges give it the dubious honor of having the worst roads in the nation.
One ray of sunlight is that the feds have responded with extra cash: Louisiana ranks eighth out of 50 states for money allocated to it by the Federal Highway Fund ($54.31 per capita), so rehabilitation of those roads should continue to show progress.
2. North Carolina
Poor-condition mileage rank: 16 out of 50
Deficient bridges rank: 10 out of 50
Fatalities rank: 18 out of 50
Congestion rank: 9 out of 50
The runner-up in the ranking goes to North Carolina, with no standout numbers beyond the picture they paint as a whole: The state places in the worst 20 for all of the indicators, with numbers for deficient bridges and congestion placing in the 10 worst. It might be hard for the state to address its problems too, as it ranks 44 out of 50 states for per-capita fund allocation from the Federal Highway Fund.
On the plus side, a new program from the North Carolina Department of Transportation to install solar panels to power its airport should free up some cash for much-needed road repairs.
Poor-condition mileage rank: 3 out of 50
Deficient bridges rank: 13 out of 50
Fatalities rank: 11 out of 50
Congestion rank: 34 out of 50
With more than 400 miles of the iconic Route 66 within its borders, Oklahoma has not benefited from the road's historic status to attract more money to its road system. It logs the third-highest amount of poor-condition mileage in the U.S., while its bridges rank 13th. Fatalities are also a problem in the Sooner State, but the authorities are at least addressing the problem head-on, with a 2009 report on road safety that includes pictures of the worst stretches of its roads.
4. West Virginia
Poor-condition mileage rank: 12 out of 50
Deficient bridges rank: 6 out of 50
Fatalities rank: 4 out of 50
Congestion rank: 43 out of 50
West Virginia, despite being able to boast very low levels of traffic congestion, ranks disturbingly high for fatalities and for the condition of its roads and bridges. The state's Department of Transportation makes little mention of these problems, but the multimedia section includes an instructional video on how to properly navigate a roundabout. Perhaps authorities think that lack of knowledge by West Virginia drivers will help improve road safety in the state.
Poor-condition mileage rank: 10 out of 50
Deficient bridges rank: 32 out of 50
Fatalities rank: 5 out of 50
Congestion rank: 22 out of 50
At No. 5 is Arkansas, whose 10th-highest percentage of roads in poor condition probably has something to do with it's fifth-highest level of road fatalities in 2009. Thankfully the state is able to throw some money at the problem, as its funds allocated per capita ranked 11th in the nation in 2009.