Idaho’s transportation system ranks among the top 10 in the nation for efficient use of resources and the condition of its highways, according to an independent analysis released recently.
The report ranks Idaho’s highway system at No. 8, an improvement of three places from the previous year. North Dakota continues to lead the nation, followed by South Carolina, Kansas, New Mexico, Oregon, Georgia and Kentucky.
Those rankings were part of the 15th annual report, "Performance of State Highway Systems," by David T. Hartgen. The professor of transportation studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has produced the assessment of highway systems since 1984. He established the Center for Interdisciplinary Transportation Studies at the university and continues to teach and conduct research in transportation policy.
The study tracks the performance of state-owned highways using 12 indicators, ranging from revenues and expenditures to pavement and bridge conditions, congestion, crash statistics and other criteria. Rankings, according to the study’s overview, are based on spending and performance data submitted to the federal government by each of the state highway agencies.
To determine relative performance, the state highway budgets (per mile of responsibility) are compared with system performance, state by state, the report indicates. “Highly ranked states typically have good-condition systems along with relatively thin budgets.”
While Idaho’s performance improved, several national indicators declined in 2004 – the latest year covered in Hartgen’s report.
“After six years of generally improving performance from 1998 to 2003, capital funding for the U.S. highway system stalled and several key indicators turned down,” according to the report.
“Expenditures for major highway improvements declined in 2004 for the first time in 21 years as the states waited for Congressional action on a new highway program. That action did not come until August 2005. With prices for construction materials also on the rise, the effective drop in capital funds was 6.3 percent. Attention to maintenance increased slightly, but the effort was not enough to forestall declines in system performance.”
Congestion remains a growing concern nationwide. More than half of the urban interstates remain congested and one-fourth of the bridges still are considered deficient, according to analysis of government highway performance data.
“… lack of progress in reducing congestion is cause for serious concern. It is simply unacceptable for half of the urban interstates to be congested. In order to make progress, states need to re-think their priorities and focus more on congestion reduction and mobility provision.”
Declining conditions are even more “dramatic” on rural interstates, where about 92 miles fell into poor condition between 2003 and 2004. The condition of the major rural highways also worsened.
There is some encouraging news, according to the report.
“The percentage of deficient bridges continued to improve, extending a long-term trend; but one-fourth of the bridges are still rated deficient.
“Delays in passing the new highway program slowed highway capital improvements and led directly to performance declines between 2003 and 2004. Congress’s passage of new federal highway legislation came just in time to avert declines in highway performance…
“Further investment, as well as wise prioritization, efficient disbursement of resources and leverage of resources, where available, will be necessary to address the condition of state-owned roads,” the report concluded.
States that significantly improved their ranking include Vermont, Oklahoma, Maine, Virginia, West Virginia and Arkansas. Among the states with the greatest declines in performance were Alaska, Alabama and Utah.