Washington State: Best in Nation Rural Highways

Urban Highways we’re 23nd.  Bridges 32nd.

Washington ranks 1st in rural interstate pavement condition, 8th in fatality rate, 14th in urban interstate congestion, 23rd in urban interstate pavement condition, and 32nd in deficient bridges.

The Reason Foundation‘s (Libertarian Thinktank) full report here, Washington’s report here.

In related news, Governor Jay Inslee is considering a 3rd Special Session this fall to try and pass a Transportation Package.

About Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson grew up in rural South Alabama. He has lived off and on in the Seattle area since early 2007, finally settling down in Columbia City in April of 2012.  Active in transportation issues, he is a cofounder of Seattle Subway. Since December 2013 he works at Sound Transit. All opinions expressed are solely those of the author. They do not represent the position of his employer, any group he is affiliated with, or even the blog as a whole.




Comments

  1. David L says:

    And, of course, this is why Rodney Tom, from a district that is “urban” by the standards of this report, won’t fund transit or urban highway maintenance unless he gets billions for rural highways.

    • Gotta please those Republicans from Deertick to get power and saying transit ain’t the way. Sure worked well for him. His constituents and everyone else in the state? Not so much.

  2. Matt the Engineer says:

    How much of a subsidy does our city send out to the rural areas again? A big chunk of that goes to their roads, which I guess are paved in gold. Imagine how much transit we could have if we let them slip to just #10 on that list, let alone halfway down it.

  3. It’s worth pointing out that Washington is tied for 1st in rural interstate condition with 19 other states. I didn’t read the report closely, but it appears that these ranking are derived from statistics that are self-reported by the state DOTs to the FHWA. Reason took one measure of surface roughness, compared it to a threshold value and then figured out what percentage of highways were above that threshold to compute a number that went into the rankings. Twenty states, including Washington, had a value of zero for that measure.

    Given the contortions that the numbers have gone through, I don’t think a ranking on that measure is particularly meaningful.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      A zero for roughness? I take that gold comment back – our roads are lined with silk.

      Good catch, aw. That has to be a tough set of numbers to come up with, but if you’re interpreting it correctly that’s an almost useless data set.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        (comes back from digging through report)
        I think you’re reading it wrong aw. We’re in a group of states with zero roads with a roughness rating of poor. “In most states road pavement condition is measured using special machines that determine the roughness of road surfaces. (A few states continue to use visual ratings.)” It is a self-reported number, but unless you think state bureaucrats are actively changing these numbers generated by machines, I’d take them as accurate.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        Check out page 35 of this document. WA does a very detailed job of measuring and documenting their road quality. “The WSPMS also contains data on physical indices that WSDOT uses to evaluate pavements and prioritize rehabilitation. It contains measurements for the pavement ride (IRI), rutting, and the pavement structural condition (PSC)…”

      • David L says:

        Comparing our rural highways with those in other states (particularly freezier states), I think the assessment could be accurate. Our rural highways, by and large, really are in very good condition. Even our city streets aren’t bad; if you think they are, go drive in New York City or Baltimore and then come back and talk to me.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        @David Check out my link above, specifically the exec. summary. They tried to find out why WA drivers feel roads are so rough, even if they technically aren’t. Turns out (page xvi) if you’re old, female, drive an SUV, or frequently drive on 520 you’re less sensitive to roughness. But if you’re a rich male of high income that drive at high speeds on 405, you should STFU and be ignored in any future studies of road surface quality. I love science.

      • I now know much more about IRI. However, I’m sceptical that there are zero rural interstates in Washington with ‘poor’ surface roughness. How about I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass or I-5 through Centralia? Do they measure each lane-mile of each interstate every year? And even if WSDOT does a competent job of measuring this, how do we know that the other states do it as well?

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        @aw Are you a rich male that drives at high speed? Because that’s important to consider with respect to your opinion of I-5 or I-90.

      • David L says:

        aw, those stretches really aren’t bad compared with what you find routinely in other parts of the country. I mentioned East Coast cities… also try Michigan and Minnesota.

    • Anandakos says:

      I expect that this same report ten years ago would have rated Washington’s rural Interstate surface condition somewhat lower. I-5, at least, has had significant renewal south of Olympia in the last decade, both widening to Centralia and an almost complete resurfacing between Kelso and Vancouver. Perhaps the Gregoire governorship wasn’t as anti-road as the screamers contend?

      I don’t know about I-90 and I-82, but they both get far less truck traffic than does I-5, so they’re likely in better shape.

      Yes, I do know that I-82 exists for trucks, but that doesn’t mean it gets lots of them……

  4. Mark Dublin says:

    I once had an interesting conversation with a Seattle architect named Grant Jones. We met at a Parks Commission meeting whose agenda included the removal of the pergola in Occidental Park, which included a beautiful brass drinking fountain designed by Grant’s wife Ilze.

    Grant himself told me that his own portfolio included a rural highway in Kentucky called the Paris Pike. Look it up online. The architect’s thesis is that it is both possible and highly desirable to design highways graded, curved, and landscaped so as to control speed and manage traffic by the configuration of the road itself.

    In addition to saving fuel and reducing congestion, such roads are also extremely enjoyable to drive-important to those of us who really are in love with our cars, and view them like prize horses, never to suffer suburban traffic.

    The architect reminded me that our interstate highways are first and foremost military roads, intended to move troops, tanks, and cannons cross-continent in a two-front war. As these highways reach the end of their design life, might be good to think about rebuilding the urban parts for transit.

    And make highway spending contingent on designing the roads for good driving.

    Mark Dublin

    • Given that Germany, Italy, and Japan lost the war, and the nuclear bomb has been invented, complete with intercontinental delivery devices, can we now scrap the national defense highway system?

      • Mark Dublin says:

        Great vision of billions of tons of concrete, rebar, and green and white signs with national-color shields alongside the camo pants and canteens in surplus stores!

        But light rail supervisor in Sacramento told me that a major stretch of their system was built on structures intended for a freeway. Evidently anything structured out to interstate specs is easily heavy enough to carry rail.

        And to accurately value right-of-way, think of every pebble as a gold nugget.

        Problem re-purposing urban freeways is their distance from human activity centers- like I-5 west of the U-District. But as Freeway Park shows, it’s possible to build structures to allow for everything from parks to buildings across these canyons.

        Especially if everything running underneath becomes electric.

        Mark Dublin

      • Mike Orr says:

        “But light rail supervisor in Sacramento told me that a major stretch of their system was built on structures intended for a freeway.”

        That’s bad for Link but it’s fine for high-speed rail. Not only could a national ine use it, but so could a regional line like an Amtrak Cascades replacement, or a future regional line across Stevens Pass to Spokane.

  5. As with basically everything Reason does, this has some pretty serious methodological flaws, some of which are laid out in this Streetsblog article and its comments:

    http://dc.streetsblog.org/2013/07/09/how-reasons-highway-report-works-against-urban-areas/

    • Exactly right. I especially like their closer, which ends “media outlets should be much more skeptical about transportation reports from groups that deny climate science.”

      The main problem with the report is that it is designed to return high scores for rural states, and punish urban ones — and accomplishes just that. Things like construction and maintenance of highways cost more in urban areas, which makes them significantly worse in the study. That’s why overall states like North Dakota and Mississippi come top, while states like New York and California are near the bottom. It was designed that way.

    • One of the most glaring methodological errors is that all costs are measured per mile, not per lane-mile. Another is that capital costs did not consider land costs, topography, and need for bridges; states with dense cities and with lots of hills and water will be more expensive for construction of roadways.

  6. CharlotteRoyal says:

    Hey! I recognize one of those authors. I was fortunate enough to take his urban transportation problems course while completing my degree. I recall he has worked for a number of Libertarian thinktanks over the years after retirement in the mid-2000s.

  7. Vladimir Steblina says:

    Look carefully at the data and you will see that eastern Washington counties pay more than fair share. Taking Garfield county as representative is dis-honest.

    However, the simplest solution on allocation of funds between eastern and western Washington is to TOLL the passes. When western Washington residents travel to eastern Washington send that money to eastern Washington and vice-versa.

    That will get us in eastern Washington to pay our fair share of roads in western Washington. AND SINCE NOBODY IS WESTERN WASHINGTON EVER TRAVELS TO EASTERN WASHINGTON………..well, it won’t matter since we don’t pay for our roads anyway.

    You know, people in eastern Washington don’t hate government. They actually are ok with Federal and local governments. We REALLY have an issue with STATE GOVERNMENT!!

    WHY AM I PAYING FOR THREE STADIUMS IN KING COUNTY!!!

    • Seattleite says:

      WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

      The Office of Financial Management (OFM) HAS dug into the numbers and you are just plain wrong. No ifs ands or buts. Eastern Washington is a welfare state surviving off the (forced) generocity of industrious Western Washington citizens.

      http://reuvencarlyle36.com/2013/05/05/carlyle-releases-annual-survey-of-state-tax-spending-flow/

      The first step to recovery is to recognize you have a problem.

      • Vladimir Steblina says:

        It all depends how you do the counting!!

        Last I looked counties were part of the state of Washington….yet all these spending studies ignore the county expenditures for non-residents.

        For example, half the inmates in the Chelan-Douglas County jail are western Washington residents. So I can safely assume that one-half my costs for law enforcement all subsidies to western Washington??

        The Chelan County Search and Rescue program costs several million dollars a year. Most rescues are of western Washington residents. None of whom, reimburse Chelan County taxpayers for their rescues.

        The hospital in Quincy almost went bankrupt providing free medical services to western Washington residents. And on and on it goes….

        Boeing, Weyerhauser, Microsoft, PacCar, and other large corporations do NOT pay their fair share of taxes. See OFM analysis on B&O tax. Should we include tax benefits and subtract them from western Washington’s share??

        The issue is much more complex than a simple west-side politician can fathom in his letter to his public and it really does not advance the discussion.

        However, I do like the concept of user pays. So lets go to tolls on the passes, charge criminal costs to county of ORIGIN rather than where the crime takes place.

        I do agree with the concept of sending power and money to the counties. Lets make state government responsible for less and less. Since we are not going to be able to split the state in two this might be a good solution.

        BTW, I did work as an economist long ago and on my own time tried to piece together who pays and who benefits. In the 1990′s it appeared to me that when you add all the state and local costs and benefits it was a push.

        Remember eastern Washington has over 1.5 million people. It would be the 36th largest state in the union on its own. Larger than Montana and the same population as Idaho. It is just as urban as western Washington. Common sense will tell you at that scale, it all averages out.

      • Seattleite says:

        LOL The rationalization required here is hilarious. Can’t handle the truth that Eastern Washington survives by skimming off Western Washington.

        Charging based on place of origin?!? So if a person is originally from California but lives in Yakima, Cali should pay for their imprisonment? You are insane.

        Which becomes quite clear when you make the idiotic statement that Eastern Wa is just as urban as West. WTF?!?!

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