North Dakota and other rural states led the Reason Foundation’s performance rankings of state highway systems, while more populous states including New Jersey, California and New York found themselves toward the bottom of the ratings.

“A widening gap seems to be emerging between most states that are making progress and a few states that are finding it difficult to improve,” the foundation said in its  20th Annual Highway Report, which was based primarily on 1984-2009 data submitted to the federal government by state highway agencies, but included information on economic trends and federal stimulus funds from 2010 and 2011.

The rankings were  based on 11 indicators, including highway expenditures, interstate and primary road conditions, bridge conditions, urban interstate congestion, fatality rates and narrow rural lanes.

The Great Recession significantly reduced the flow of tax revenues to state coffers, the report noted.

“The overall trend of state tax revenues in the past five years shows a general increase through June of 2008, followed by decreases through June 2010 and slight increases since then,” the report said.

While vehicle-miles of travel (VMT) were up nationally from January 2005 to November 2007, they were down beginning in late 2007 through mid-2009. Since then, they have been relatively flat, the report found.

The report noted that Congress failed to pass a long-term highway funding bill or find a solution for the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to soon become insolvent because of falling gas tax revenues. However, stimulus funds represented about 22.2% of 2009 state highway disbursements of funds. For some states, such as North and South Dakota, the percentage was higher and accounted for more than 40% of annual state funding.

“These events have given the states some breathing room in addressing long-delayed construction work and may have led to better overall system performance,” the report said. “But looking forward, the recession also slowed federal and state fuel tax revenues, making future repairs more difficult.”

The six states with the best ratings for 2009 were North Dakota, Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana and Nebraska. All of these states fared well in the rankings from 2005 to 2009.

The six states rated poorest, from the bottom, were: Alaska, Rhode Island, Hawaii, California, New Jersey and New York.

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