Infrastructure Condition and Spending By State

Infrastructure condition by state

It’s easy to take infrastructure for granted, especially when governments collectively do a good job of maintaining it. However, no one wants to live without roads, bridges, train tracks, sanitation, water purification, dams, and other parts of the background we pass by every day. And it’s also the stuff we use every day. Since no one wants to clunk into potholes or drive over a creaky bridge; since we don’t want our streets to flood or our water to contain metals, it’s important for relevant governments to spend the money to keep it up to date.

Infrastructure is paid for both by the federal government and by state and local governments. It’s important to note that not all states and counties have the same funds for infrastructure. In fact, without governors, congresses and senates, county boards of commissioners, etc., deciding to devote money to these projects, they will, and often do, go neglected. Also, environmental factors, like winter freezes, amounts of traffic, and instances of floods and earthquakes, can all affect the quality of infrastructure in states. So, let’s start by looking at the states with the best infrastructure, then the worst.

Best State Infrastructure

The data comes from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gives the country and individual states a report card every few years. Note that the states aren’t graded on a curve, where the best states get an A.

To illustrate why even the top states get C’s in many categories, here are the 2016 grades for the entire nation:

  • Roads: D
  • Aviation: D
  • Bridges: C+
  • Solid Waste: C+
  • Levees: D
  • Transit: D-

Here are the grades or other available measures for the top five states in terms of infrastructure:

1. Nevada

  • Transportation: C-
  • Aviation: C-
  • Flood Control C-
  • Dams: D+
  • Solid Waste: B-
  • Roads in poor condition: 2.3%
  • Deficient bridges: 5.3%
  • Spending on highways, 2016: $7.2 million

    2. Florida

    • Roads: C
    • Aviation: B-
    • Transit: C
    • Waste Water: C
    • Drinking Water: C+
    • Roads in Poor Condition: 1.3%
    • Deficient Bridges: 1.3%
    • Spending on Highways, 2016: $8.0 billion

    3. Georgia

    • Roads: C-
    • Aviation: B+
    • Bridges: C-
    • Dams: D-
    • Rail: B
    • Solid Waste: C+
    • Drinking Water: C+
    • Roads in poor condition: 1.9%
    • Deficient Bridges: 4.7%
    • Highway Spending, 2016: $2.7 billion

    4. Minnesota

    • Roads: D+
    • Aviation: B
    • Ports: C+
    • Bridges: C
    • Transit: C-
    • Waste Water: C
    • Drinking Water: C-
    • Highway Spending, 2016: $3.2 billion

    5. Kansas

    • Roads: C-
    • Aviation: C-
    • Bridges: C
    • Dams: C-
    • Drinking Water: C
    • Roads in poor condition: 0.9%
    • Bridges in poor condition: 8.5%
    • 2016 Highway Spending: $1.3 billion

    Worst State Infrastructure

    Now, here are the worst states, with the worst listed first.

    1. Rhode Island

    • Roads: 55% in poor condition
    • Bridges: 25% structurally deficient
    • Freight rail: 50th in the nation in length/amount
    • 2016 Highway Spending: $315.8 million

    2. Alaska

    • Roads: C-
    • Aviation: C
    • Bridges B-
    • Drinking Water: D
    • Ports: D
    • Roads: 18.9% in poor condition
    • 2016 Highway Spending: $1.3 billion/ $2,374/driver, highest in nation

    3. Hawaii

    No Grades have been assigned. (Note that when the ASCE lists some of the states with the biggest infrastructure problems, instead of giving the state or its various elements of infrastructure a letter grade, it says that the state “faces infrastructure challenges of its own.”)

    • Roads: 39% in poor condition
    • Dams: 93.2% listed as “high hazard risk” (worst in the country)
    • Freight Rail: 0 miles
    • Hazardous Waste: 3 sites on National Priorities List
    • 2016 Highway Spending: $457 million

    4. West Virginia

    • Roads: 19% in poor condition
    • Dams: 71% at high hazard risk
    • Hazardous Waste: 10 sites on National Priorities List
    • Bridges: 17.3% structurally deficient
    • Wastewater: $3.3 billion in wastewater needs in next 5 years
    • 2016 Highway spending: $1.1 billion

    5. California

    The ASCE graded CA in the first three categories:

    • Roads: D
    • Bridges: C-
    • Transit: C-
    • Roads: 16.9% in bad condition
    • Dams considered high risk: 52.6%
    • 2016 Highway spending: $10.9 Billion

    What Are Patterns in Infrastructure Condition?

    Looking at these statistics causes one to search for, and hopefully reach, some interesting ideas about how the infrastructure in various parts of our country has arrived at its current state.

    One can see that there are many different factors involved, and some of them are counterintuitive.

    For example, while cold, rainy, or snowy weather has a reputation of playing havoc with roads, concrete, pipes, etc., some of the states with the worst infrastructure include Hawaii and California, while Minnesota is near the top.

    Similarly, one might assume poor conditions for rural or less developed areas, those without big industries moving in with the need for new or re-paved roads, etc. Yet, Kansas, with so many farming communities, finds only 0.9% of its roads in bad condition.

    Do States that Spend More Have Better Infrastructure?

    One fact that becomes clear is that some of the states with the best roads spend the least. For example, Nevada has the 8th smallest percentage of roads in bad repair. But in 2016, its $7.2 M spent on roads was the 6th least per driver, $281. One might guess that some recent splurges on road and driving infrastructure have been done by states with the worst roads—the money they spent hasn’t been enough to bring their previously crumbled infrastructure back up to comparatively-high quality. The other states may be spending less due to the fact that their roads and dams and sewage systems are in good shape.

    It seems to be the case that a big factor in condition is how much the state spends per driver. For example, California spent more on highways than any other state in 2016, yet has roads near the bottom of the list. But, at least according to 2015 numbers, the state spent just $269 per driver, the fourth lowest in the nation.

    Anyone who has ever braved some of the highways in Southern California knows that they are very congested with traffic. In other words, not all, say ten-mile stretches of highway are equal—one in California may service (as just a ballpark guess) dozens of thousands of cars in a day, while one in Kansas may be rolled upon by barely a hundred. Areas that have a throng of people using their roads will run into more problems with road conditions than lighter traffic areas. It may be the case that volume of use of roads is a bigger factor in their condition that conditions like freezing and thawing or rocks and mud wearing away at the concrete.

    Rural and Urban Roads

    The discrepancy between roads in densely and less densely populated areas can account for why spending more doesn’t necessarily lead to the best roads, or that spending less doesn’t mean the worst roads. 

    To use Michigan as one example, funds are doled out to the various county road commissions. One big factor as to how much money each county gets is the number of miles of road the county has. Well, rural areas have those long, lonely stretches of roads, while more urban counties will have fewer roads by the mile, with many homes and businesses in a small area. That works to the advantage of rural counties, which in Michigan receive $257.53 for roads per person, to the $147.35 for urban counties.

    Getting back to the idea of how many vehicles travel on roads, MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) research reveals that a large, heavy truck (like a semi-trailer) does less damage than two lighter trucks. This is due to the smaller trucks having more weight per axle.

    The Importance of Infrastructure

    Sometimes infrastructure can be an afterthought or at least a low priority. States are often scrambling for money to fund schools (including all the expenses, not chiefly fixing ceilings and parking lots), to pay for public employees, to provide welfare benefits, and possibly to deal with particular threats or recent disasters. Therefore, the money for roads or dams may seem like an extra.

    However, large companies carefully look at road quality, amount of large highways without congestion, and sometimes access to train tracks, public transportation, and other factors. That is how infrastructure can have big economic impacts for not just for companies involved directly in upgrading infrastructure, but for the industry at large. And on a day-to-day basis, failings in roads, as well as closures for construction, can cost a lot of money. It’s strange that governments focus on so many economic factors other than infrastructure, particularly since infrastructure products, by definition, create jobs.