Study: Congestion up, fatalities down on Ohio highways
Thursday, July 31, 2008 – 2:15 PM EDT | Modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 – 5:31 PM
Business First of Columbus
In bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, Ohio highways might feel like some of the most congested in nation – and they are, according to a recent study. But an examination by the Reason Foundation also says Ohio’s roads perform better in other tests than most states.
The public policy think tank in Los Angeles said in its report that North Dakota and Montana have the most effective road networks, while Ohio’s lands at 17th on the list, one slot lower than in last year’s study. Rhode Island, Alaska and New Jersey filled the bottom three slots in that order.
The Reason Foundation studied the condition of state-owned roads and highways from 1984 to 2006, measuring congestion and traffic fatalities, bridge conditions as well as highway maintenance and administrative costs.
For a large state with many large urban regions, 17th is a good place to be, study author David Hartgen said, adding that Texas (12th) was the only state more populous than Ohio that fared better.
Hartgen noted Ohio’s highway budget contributes to observable results, such as good pavement conditions, low accident rates and a decreasing rate of deficient bridges.
Ohio’s fatality rate is the 12th best in the country, up two spots from last year’s study, according to the report. Figures for 2006 dipped slightly to 1.1 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles. The national average was 1.42 in 2006, down from 1.45 in 2005.
The state’s bridges also fared slightly better than the national average: 23.3 percent of Ohio bridges are deficient, while nationally 24.1 percent – or 144,225 bridges – are deficient. By comparison, nearly 4 percent of Nevada’s bridges are considered deficient and more than 53.4 percent of Rhode Island’s bridges need repair.
What pulled down Ohio’s overall performance score, however, was Ohio’s ranking as the eighth-most congested state in the nation, according to the study.
In Ohio, more than 64 percent of urban interstate highways, such as Interstate 270 around Columbus or I-90 through Cleveland, are congested, up from nearly 60 percent in last year’s study.
Overall, 35 states report that at least 40 percent of their urban interstate highways are congested, and 18 states report at least half of their interstates experience gridlock, according to the study. Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming reported no highway congestion, as opposed to North Carolina, Minnesota and California that reported congestion rates exceeding 70 percent.
However, congestion figures do not necessarily convey the size of a state’s highway system, said Scott Varner, communications director for the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Ohio has the fourth-largest interstate system in the country, as well as the fifth-highest volume of overall traffic and the fifth-highest volume of truck traffic, he said.
ODOT is working to unplug congestion and improve Ohio roadways with its $2.5 billion program, which pledges 1,000 projects over an 18-month time frame, Varner said. The construction program will include preservation and modernization of existing roads and new systems as well.
“We realize Ohio can’t just build its way out of congestion,” he said. “The answer is not simply building more roadways but making roadways work smarter.” The department’s Intelligent Transportation Systems program includes ramp meters, traffic sensors and cameras, highway message boards and a downtown Columbus traffic center, all of which can help address the congestion issue, he said.
Although the state invests significant resources into its interstate highways, Varner said improving Ohio’s transportation system would become increasingly difficult if the Federal Highway Trust Fund is hit with a multibillion dollar shortfall next year.
Government estimates say the trust fund’s highway portion is facing a deficit ranging from $1.1 billion to as much as $3.2 billion in fiscal 2009, according to Federal Highway Administration information.
Ohio now receives $1.5 billion a year from the federal trust, but risks losing anywhere between $350 million to $500 million if the highway fund goes bankrupt, Varner said.