WASHINGTON — The shoddy state of the nation’s roads cost average drivers $515 in extra operation and maintenance costs on their cars, according to the latest analysis from TRIP, a national transportation research group. Meanwhile, the Highway Trust Fund is about to become insolvent, and congressional lawmakers can’t agree on a temporary fix that experts say is inadequate.
The numbers from TRIP show that 28 percent of the nation’s major roadways — interstates, freeways and major arterial roadways in urban areas — are in “poor” condition. This means they have so many major ruts, cracks and potholes that they can’t simply be resurfaced — they need to be completely rebuilt.
Kentucky’s urban roadways fared much better, with only 14 percent rated as “poor.”
Those cracks and potholes put a lot of extra wear and tear on your car. They wear your tires away faster, and they decrease your gas mileage. All of these factors go into that calculation of $515 in extra annual cost, above and beyond what you’d pay to maintain your car if the roads were in good condition.
But as you might expect, there’s a lot of variation in road conditions and costs at the state level. First, let’s take a look at road quality: The worst roads in America are in Washington, D.C., where 92 percent of the major roadways are rated as “poor.” Conversely, none of D.C.’s roads received a “good” rating in the Federal Highway Administration data analyzed by TRIP. There is almost literally not a single good road in D.C.
Among the states, the worst roads are in California where 51 percent of the highways are rated poor. Rhode Island, New Jersey and Michigan all have “poor” ratings of 40 percent or more.
One main reason why the roads are in such bad shape is that we haven’t been putting enough money into the Highway Trust Fund to keep up with infrastructure needs. And a reason we haven’t been putting enough money into the Highway Trust Fund is that the federal gasoline tax has remained at 1993 levels.
Raising the tax is politically unpopular for the obvious reason that nobody likes tax increases. But these numbers make it clear that nobody’s getting a free ride.