How do Michigan roads rank in US? Libertarian think tank crunches the numbers

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Michigan's road conditions deteriorated as highways improved nationwide, according to a new report by the Reason Foundation. 

The state ranked 34th nationally in highway performance and cost effectiveness in 2021, dropping 10 spots in the libertarian think tank's Annual Highway Report compared to the 2020 report, and landing in the bottom 10 states in several measured categories.

The report released Thursday looked at highway data from 2019 and congestion data from 2020, and grades state roads in 13 categories. Those include pavement condition, traffic congestion, bridge structures, traffic fatalities and spending per mile.

Michigan was one of only four states, including New Mexico, Ohio and South Carolina, to decline in the rankings by 10 spots or more in the same time period, compared with the 2020 report, which looked at 2018 and 2019.

A Macomb County worker patches potholes on eastbound I-94, north of 8 Mile in St. Clair Shores, Tuesday.

There were 1,219 bridges and more than 7,300 miles of highway in poor condition in Michigan, according to an August report released by the White House.

Since 2011, commute times have increased by 4.6% in the state and individual drivers paid an average of $644 a year in costs related to driving on damaged roads.

The report came days after President Joe Biden signed into law the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which will include around $7.8 billion in funding for highway and bridge repairs over five years in Michigan.

This is in addition to the $3.5 billion of bonds that the Michigan Department of Transportation was authorized to issue over four years for the repair and rehabilitation of 122 major highways, per the self-described "Fix the Damn Roads" governor, Gretchen Whitmer's request.

The fiscal year 2019 budget was set by the Legislature under the Snyder administration. 

"Our pavement is deteriorating more quickly than we can maintain it with current funding levels," said Diane Cross, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transport, on Sunday. "The governor's $3.5 billion Rebuilding Michigan plan, now complemented by the federal IIJA, will slow the decline but everyone agrees that long term, we need more and sustainable investment."

The Governor's Office said Whitmer is working on the roads and acknowledged more work was needed to "make up for the prior decades of disinvestment" and working with the Legislature and federal government for more funding.

“After decades of disinvestment in the state’s aging infrastructure, Michigan has made a strong shift toward focusing on the type of investments that we need to rebuild roads and bridges across the state," said Bobby Leddy, press secretary for Whitmer.

"Since taking office, Governor Whitmer has fixed more than 9,000 miles of roads and secured additional funding to fix 100 bridges in serious or critical condition without raising taxes. And the governor’s Rebuilding Michigan plan is creating tens of thousands of good-paying jobs to fix our state’s roads and bridges with the right mix and material to ensure the repairs last longer."

Michigan's best rankings in the Reason Foundation's report were in the rural fatality and overall fatality rates on highways, 7th and 14th respectively.

On the other end of the findings, the state's worst rankings were in urban Interstate pavement condition and congestion, with commuters spending 42.07 hours a year in rush hour traffic. Drivers in only four other states in the country spend more than 40 hours in traffic, according to the report; New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Illinois. 

"Despite not having a metro area that ranks in the top 10 for population, Michigan has the fifth worst traffic congestion in the country,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation.

Compared to nearby states, the report found that Michigan’s overall highway performance is worse than Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but better than Illinois. 

"Michigan is one of the few states that could benefit from spending slightly more on its highway system to improve the overall condition," continued Feigenbaum.

Michigan spends around $92,500 per mile of state-controlled road.

The country's most cost-effective highway systems, according to the report, were North Dakota, Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky and North Carolina, while the worst combination of highway performance and cost effectiveness was found in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Alaska, Hawaii, and New York.