Mass. Highway System Ranking Dragged Down By Congestion, Bridges

Slow traffic heading eastbound on Storrow Drive. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Slow traffic heading eastbound on Storrow Drive. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts continued to rank near the bottom of states in overall highway performance and cost-effectiveness, but has the lowest rate of fatal crashes in the country, according to a new report.

Released Thursday by a Los Angeles-based libertarian think tank, the Reason Foundation Annual Highway Report concluded that despite heavier spending than most states Massachusetts ranks 46th in overall performance, higher than only Alaska, New Jersey, Hawaii and Rhode Island.

At $675,939 in total disbursements per state-controlled mile, Massachusetts was outspent by only Florida and New Jersey. The weighted average total spending per state-controlled mile was $160,997.

Massachusetts ranked 46th in last year's report and 45th the previous year. By contrast, Utah improved its ranking by 16 spots in the past year, Idaho jumped forward 14 spots, and Maine leapt past 11 states.

South Carolina earned the top ranking in the report, and rural states generally earned higher grades than more densely populated states, although Ohio was ninth in the latest rankings.

The report ranks each state highway system in categories like pavement condition, traffic congestion, deficient bridges, traffic fatality rates, and spending per-mile. The information is compiled from data the state highway agencies report to the federal government. The new report is based on data from 2013, the last year with complete data, Reason Foundation said.

The Bay State trailed only New York in its rate of improvement to deficient bridges, decreasing the percentage of deficient bridges in the system by 2.5 percentage points. Despite that progress, the report's authors found more than a third of state bridges in Massachusetts remained "deficient or functionally obsolete."

Massachusetts earned low marks for congestion, being one of just eight states where commuters lose more than 50 hours per year sitting in traffic, the report said. The others are California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Washington.

The state's highway fatality rate — 0.58 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles — is the lowest in the nation and well below the national rate of 1.10, the Reason report found.

The Massachusetts highway system is the 46th largest in the country, based on the number of miles — 3,658 — under state control, Reason said. New Hampshire has 4,025 miles of highway under state control.

The report includes Massachusetts among four states where state highways are significantly wider — more than three lanes per mile — than the nationwide average of 2.4 lanes per mile.

Massachusetts was among the heaviest spending states as far as disbursements for highway and state road upkeep, such as filling potholes and repaving roads. At $78,313 in maintenance disbursements per state-controlled mile, Massachusetts spending on maintenance far exceeded the weighted average of $25,996, the report said. The weighted average for administrative disbursements per state-controlled mile was $10,051, compared to $74,924 in Massachusetts.



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