CT’s transportation infrastructure ranks among bottom 10 in U.S.

David T. Hartgen, senior fellow, Reason Foundation.
Q&A with David T. Hartgen, senior fellow, and Baruch Feigenbaum, transportation policy analyst, with the Reason Foundation, which just released its 22nd Annual Highway Report that ranks how state-owned road systems are performing relative to others in categories like traffic fatalities, pavement condition, deficient bridges and spending per mile.

Q: The Reason Foundation's 22nd Annual Highway Report finds that 40 states now have traffic delays that cost drivers at least 20 hours per year; states made progress on deficient bridges; state highway spending decreased slightly; and pavement conditions worsened marginally. Of those four points mentioned, which is the most troubling?

A: All are of concern, but in our view the greatest concern is traffic congestion, which increases commuter travel times and reduces regional and national productivity. With the economy growing and total vehicle-miles traveled increasing, traffic congestion has increased much faster since 2012 than it did during prior years, where the recession was playing a role in reducing travel and congestion. Without adequate improvements in road capacity, congestion is likely to continue to worsen in many states, which would negatively impact quality of life and the economy. Connecticut currently ranks 31st in congestion delays.

Q: Connecticut ranks 44th in overall performance and cost-effectiveness rankings in your report. What drives the state's low rankings?

A: Connecticut has a relatively small state-owned road system, 4,079 miles, but it spends three times as much money per mile ($478,000 per mile) than the average state. Per-mile expenditures for capital work, maintenance and administration are also high.

As one of the states that is spending the most per mile in these categories, taxpayers might expect superior results. But the system's condition ranks 46th out of 50 in percent of deficient bridges and 44th in rural primary road condition. Connecticut ranks better on Interstate pavement condition (24th), narrow lanes on rural roads (12th) and fatality rate (9th).

Q: From your national perspective, what can Connecticut do to improve its standings? Are there any "easy" solutions to the issues it faces?

A: The number of deficient bridges and the pavement conditions on rural arterial roads are clearly hurting the state's overall rankings. A greater focus on those problems would almost certainly help the state's rankings. Overall, the state can look for ways to have its higher-than-average spending numbers translate into better results or it can reduce its costs.

Q: According to the report, on average, states spent $10,000 on administrative costs for each mile of road they control. In contrast, Connecticut spent $83,282. What makes our roads so much more expensive to administer?

A: Generally, states with smaller road systems, like Connecticut's, tend to have somewhat higher per-mile administrative costs. However, this difference is very large so Connecticut could look into office costs and non-essential spending that it may be able to reduce.

Q: What would the impact be if the state got its administrative costs down to the national average?

A: If Connecticut's administrative costs were equal to the national average, its overall rating in this report would've improved from 44th to 35th.

Q: Connecticut ranks 47th in total disbursements per mile and 50th in administrative disbursements per mile. Massachusetts is 48th in both areas, and Rhode Island is 45th for both. Is there something about Southern New England driving this? Or is it more a political than geographical issue?

A: Southern New England's road systems are typically older, winters are severe, unit costs are higher, and traffic is denser than in many other states. But other states with similar conditions, like New Hampshire (26th overall) and Maine (fifth overall), are ranked higher. So attention to both internal (e.g. agency and budget) and external (e.g. road maintenance and construction policies) factors impacting the state's spending can be helpful.

Each state has its own geography, traffic, weather and development patterns, which cannot be changed. However each state's road investment and management policies can be shifted to focus on areas of need and make sure its spending is achieving its goals. Becoming more efficient requires long-term commitment from state leaders.

Q: When it comes to Connecticut highways, what's being done right? What's stopping the state from being 50th in your rankings?

A: Connecticut can be proud of its relatively low fatal accident rate (ninth), a low percentage of narrow lanes on rural roads (12th), and a relatively low percentage of pavement in poor condition on urban interstates (26th). These successes can serve as guideposts for improvement in other parts of the state's system.