Connecticut accelerated up the ranks of Reason Foundation’s annual ranking of state highway systems, rising 26 places to be ranked the fifth best highway system in the country, according to the latest Annual Highway Report.
It’s a fast turnaround from 2016, when Connecticut ranked 44th in the nation and was beleaguered by sky-high administration costs that were sometimes challenged by the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) during the debate over highway tolls.
Gov. Ned Lamont touted the change on Twitter, saying, “I’m glad we’re being recognized for the improvements we’ve made over the last 5 years. Let’s keep going!”
Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation Garrett Eucalitto said DOT is “planning, designing, and constructing more projects than ever as we continue to make progress on improving our transportation system.”
“This report validates that we’re headed in the right direction and that we deliver projects efficiently and effectively,” Eucalitto said in an emailed statement.
The report, which looks at highway spending, conditions, fatality rates and urbanized congestion is based on spending and performance data submitted by states to the Federal Highway Administration for the year 2020, a year that marked the beginning of the pandemic when highway travel in Connecticut sharply decreased.
Although the report indicated that Connecticut residents spend more than 30 hours annually stuck in traffic – making it 42nd in the nation — it bested its peers in a number of categories, with Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York all falling far behind Connecticut in the rankings.
Connecticut placed well for pavement conditions, fatalities, maintenance spending per mile, structurally deficient bridges and disbursements per mile of highway – a category in which Connecticut had previously ranked nearly last in previous iterations of the study.
Part of Connecticut’s turnaround in the rankings is based on the methodology used by Reason in reaching its figures, according to the report.
“Connecticut ranks 5th, a ranking that is high for a small-in-geographic-size northeastern state. Connecticut benefitted from the report’s change in calculating spending,” authors Baruch Feigenbaum, Truong Bui and Thuy Nguyen wrote. “Yet other states also benefitted from the change in methodology and managed to post smaller gains in the rankings or in some cases losses. Part of Connecticut’s large jump is due to other categorical improvements including smoother Interstate highway pavement and lower fatality rates in all three categories.”
Although Connecticut’s place in the annual report appears to be a win for a state which typically has difficulty when it comes to national rankings in several different categories, the three-year-old data may leave some scratching their heads as Connecticut’s post-pandemic driving issues have captured media attention.
High-profile wrong way driving accidents have increased since residents returned to the roads in droves, as have vehicle accidents involving pedestrians, prompting legislation and the installation of wrong way signals on highway off-ramps.
Connecticut ranked 8th for urban fatalities and 25th for rural fatalities in the study.
“Connecticut has improved its system significantly over the past five years, but there is always room for improvement,” Feigenbaum said, noting that Connecticut could improve its “urban arterial pavement condition” and “reduce its traffic congestion somewhat.”
Connecticut’s Special Transportation Fund, which pays for Connecticut’s transportation needs, is projected to have a surplus over the next few years and CT DOT is seeking to hire more engineers and other staff to meet project demands.
Eucalitto says he anticipates more progress as 38 percent more federal infrastructure funds and billions of discrepancy grants flow into Connecticut from Washington D.C.
“I am optimistic we can keep this positive momentum going and advance projects that will reduce maintenance expenditures and have a lasting positive impact on our state’s system by continuing to expand or our asset management approach to capital investment,” Eucalitto said.
Connecticut was behind only Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia for its highway system, while Alaska, New York, Hawaii, California and Washington all took the bottom five rankings.