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New Jersey highways rank last in the nation. Pennsylvania’s are No. 39.

The Reason Foundation ranks states on highway spending per-mile, roadway quality and safety.

Coming off two lanes on I-676, the Vine Street Expressway,  trucks and cars merge into a single lane as they enter westbound I-76, the Schuylkill Expressway.
Coming off two lanes on I-676, the Vine Street Expressway, trucks and cars merge into a single lane as they enter westbound I-76, the Schuylkill Expressway.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Well, this probably won’t make the official New Jersey travel guide:

The state ranks 50th in the nation in highway performance and cost, with Trenton spending $1.14 million per lane mile on construction and maintenance for relatively rough pavement and high urban traffic congestion, according to the Annual Highway Report by the Reason Foundation.

New Jersey commuters spend about 86 hours per year in traffic, according to the 26th annual report from the free-market think tank.

Pennsylvania fared a bit better in the report, ranking 39th overall for the quality of its highways and bridges relative to construction and maintenance costs.

Pennsylvania spends $102,329 per mile of state-controlled road, and drivers on urban stretches of highway spend an average of about 36 hours a year in traffic jams.

“The main takeaway for both New Jersey and Pennsylvania is that compared to other parts of the country, drivers in those states ought to be able to get better highways or pay less for them,” said lead author Baruch Feigenbaum, senior transportation policy analyst for Reason, based in Los Angeles.

The Reason report comes as the recently signed federal infrastructure act will send $110 billion in new spending, above the usual formula-based appropriation, to state DOTs for work on roads and bridges over the next five years.

It was Reason’s 26th annual evaluation of state highway systems on 13 metrics, including per-mile spending on construction, maintenance, and administration as well as the condition of pavement and bridges, traffic fatalities, and congestion.

Results are based on 2019 data state transportation departments reported to the federal government, and information on congestion from the transportation analytics company INRIX, which aggregates GPS data.

In general, overall rankings favor more sparsely populated states, though Georgia and Virginia, which have significant urban areas, performed well.

The top-rated states in the 2021 report are North Dakota, Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky, North Carolina, Utah, and Kansas.

New Jersey highways take a pounding, particularly from trucks. It is the most densely populated state in the nation, with a large volume of traffic.

State transportation officials take exception to Reason’s conclusions.

“Over the years, NJDOT has raised several discrepancies in the way in which the Reason Foundation presents data pertaining to New Jersey,” spokesperson Steve Schapiro said, noting the department is still analyzing the latest report.

Among the points the state has raised in the past: The figures it reports to Washington include borrowing costs and state expenditures for arterial roads controlled by local and county governments, which inflate overall spending.

New Jersey costs have dropped sharply since the 2016 Reason report, which said it spent about $2 million per mile in 2014.

And on the bright side, New Jersey has the fourth-lowest highway fatality rate in this year’s report.

Costs for some states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, could be affected by topography and weather, the Reason report allows. Feigenbaum said labor and regulatory costs for highway builders are likely higher, too.

“The Northeast is an expensive neighborhood,” he said, but New Jersey still spends much more per mile than densely packed regional peers, such as Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts.

Pennsylvania has one of the largest state-maintained highway and bridge networks in the nation with about 40,000 miles of roadway and more than 25,400 bridges, PennDot officials point out by way of context.

It has reduced the number of bridges in poor condition to 2,443 from 6,034 in 2008, the state says.

“We are grateful for the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will bring $4 billion in new highway and bridge funds to Pennsylvania over five years,” Alexis Campbell, PennDot press secretary, said in a statement. “That investment, coupled with state-level solutions … are critical to helping us build for the future.”

Among those, she said, are new sources of funding proposed by the governor’s Transportation Revenue Options Commission (TROC), which include congestion-based pricing on urban highways as well as replacements for the gasoline tax, which pays 78% of Pennsylvania’s highway and bridge costs. The tax’s growth as a revenue source has stalled in recent years with higher fuel economy and an increase in electric vehicles on the road.

The Wolf administration is considering fees for package delivery to homes and offices and ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Longer term, the revenue commission said Pennsylvania should move toward a user fee based on miles driven.

Pilot programs for mileage-based fees are operating in several states, including Oregon, Utah, and Virginia. The federal infrastructure act funds a study on the feasibility of implementing such a payment scheme nationally.

“The gas tax just is not going to be viable,” Reason’s Feigenbaum said. “I do think most states will [eventually] go to a mileage-based user fee system.”