Utah highways scores high for safety, efficiency in national study

Jul 8, 2013

A new study on the health of the nation’s highway system gave Utah high marks for safety and efficiency. But overall the state ranked 26th with only mediocre scores for congestion, rural pavement conditions and administrative costs. Study author David T. Hartgen, emeritus professor of transportation at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says the rankings are a function of both cost and efficiency.

Utah was ranked 26th in a recent report on the performance of state highway systems.
Utah was ranked 26th in a recent report on the performance of state highway systems.
Credit Reason Foundation

"We look at two sides of the coin," he said. "On one side is the money picture. We look at how much money each state has to work with relative to the size of its system. In the case of Utah, it's a 5,800-mile system which is actually a little smaller than most. They have roughly a $1.6 billion budget, so they've got about $276,000 to work with per mile of responsibility."

That means Utah spends about twice the national average per every mile of road in the Utah Department of Transportation system. Other ranking criteria include fatality rates, bridge conditions and whether rural highway routes use lanes that are too narrow.

"Utah actually scored quite well in terms of performance of the system," Hartgen said. "And I think one might expect that given that they have more resources to work with than the average state. Overall we ranked them 26th. But their fatality rate is 12th nationwide; the percentage of deficient bridges in sixth; they have no narrow lanes on the rural primary system - that's good; and the urban interstate system is in good condition."

Despite common belief, Hartgen says the national highway system has been improving in recent years. Utah’s rank fell from 16th in 2007, but the author says that’s likely because the most recent data of 2009 doesn’t reflect changes in the state’s highway spending and major upgrades to the Interstate 15 urban corridor.

Utah’s worst score came in per-mile administrative spending at 3.7 times the national average. It got 45th in the country for overhead costs. The state got first for urban interstate pavement condition.

The Reason Foundation's 20th Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems tracks data on state-owned highway systems. Hartgen says many drivers mistakenly think the interstate system is owned by the federal government when, in fact, it is owned by individual states.

"The feds pay 90 percent of the construction and maintenance costs, but the states are actually the legal owners," he said.

Reason Foundation’s 20th Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems tracks the performance of state-owned highway systems of the United States from 1984 to 2009. Eleven indicators make up each state’s overall rati - See more at: http://reason.org/studies/show/20th-annual-highway-report#sthash.jyjIDYjt.dpuf