Idaho remains among the nation’s leaders in the efficient operation of its transportation system, according to an independent national report issued Thursday by the Reason Foundation, a public policy organization based in Los Angeles.
The 16th annual report on the Performance of State Highway Systems ranks Idaho 10th nationally for efficient management of the system. Five other rural western states also joined the top 10, including New Mexico (4), Montana (5), Wyoming (7), Oregon (8) and Nevada (9).
North Dakota and South Carolina repeated as the top two states. Kansas and Georgia also made the top 10.
The 2005 report measures the performance of state-owned highway systems in 12 categories, including fatality rate, deficient pavement percentage, disbursement of maintenance and bridge funds, revenue and lane miles.
David T. Hartgen, a professor of transportation studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is the report’s lead author. He has conducted research and prepared assessments of highway systems in the U.S. since 1984. Hartgen established the Center for Interdisciplinary Transportation Studies at the university and continues to teach and conduct research in transportation policy.
More than one-half (52 percent) of the urban interstate highways in the U.S. are congested, according to the new report. It also indicates a slight rise in the traffic fatality rate. But the surface condition of the country’s highways and bridge conditions improved slightly from 2004 to 2005.
“Gridlock isn’t going away,” Hartgen said. “States are going to have to prioritize and direct their transportation money to projects specifically designed to reduce congestion if we are going to reverse this troubling trend.”
Highway congestion diminishes air quality, negatively impacts work productivity and exacts considerable tolls on time and gas budgets for commuters. Drivers in California, Minnesota, New Jersey and North Carolina suffer from the worst traffic, with more than 70 percent of the urban interstates in those states qualifying as congested.
Fatality rates vary significantly among states, according to the report. The national average increased from 1.440 in 2004 to 1.453 the following year.
Massachusetts reported the lowest fatality rate – just .79 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The fatality rate was highest in Montana at 2.256 per 100 MVT; the average nationally was 1.453. Idaho’s 2005 fatality rate was 1.850, which ranks 38th nationally.
The report offers some good news for motorists. The percentage of roads considered in “poor condition” fell sharply on both interstate highways and major rural routes. Since 1998, the percentage of poor urban interstate mileage has dropped by 31 percent. The number of bridges considered deficient (meaning they qualify for federal repair funds), also dropped in 2005.
New Jersey ranked last nationally – a position it has held every year but one since the study was initiated in 1984. Idaho has been in the top 10 since 1996 except for a rating of 11th in 2003.