A review of infrastructure and highway systems puts Vermont in the middle regarding the condition of its state roads and bridges, according to a new report from the Reason Foundation.
In the Annual Highway Report policy, the Green Mountain State ranked 19th for overall highway performance. Vermont was one of just four states to improve by double digits in the overall ranking — the state jumped 20 spots.
The report is broken down into 13 categories, including traffic fatalities, spending per mile, congestion, administrative costs, and more. The authors highlight that Vermont has improved overall.
“Vermont improved 20 positions, from 39th to 19th in the overall rankings, as the state benefited from the report’s increased emphasis on fatality rates (Vermont ranked 6th, 8th and 3rd in Overall Fatality Rate, Rural Fatality Rate, and Urban Fatality Rate respectively) and the elimination of the Narrow Rural Arterial Lane ranking (the state ranked 47th last year),” the report states.
State Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, is the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. He told True North that lawmakers are doing everything they can to keep our roadways safe.
“We’ve been making a great deal of progress on our bridges, our paving, and one of the reasons is we haven’t cut down on spending,” he said. “We’ve been running about $600 million a year of our overall spending. We’re doing about average $110 million on paving alone.”
He said Vermont is even passing down $25 million a year to help municipalities with dirt roads, and that dealing with distracted driving is going to be a top priority next legislative session.
Regarding traffic flow, Vermont faired well, at 10th place. Auto commuters’ annual peak hours spent in congestion was just 10.17 hours. Residents of California, New York and New Jersey had 61, 63, and 70 hours respectively.
In the category of percentage of structurally deficient bridges, Vermont again came in 10th, with just 5.23 percent of bridges found to be inadequate. Nationally, that number is close to 9 percent. Rhode Island, which placed last among states, has nearly a quarter of its bridges found to be structurally deficient.
Vermont was ranked 6th in “fatality rate for 100 million vehicle-miles,” with 0.84 deaths — better than the national average of 1.18. In this category, all New England states made the top 20, with Massachusetts at ranked No.1 with 0.63 deaths.
Even though Vermont is doing well in its fatality rate, Mazza said there’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to distracted driving.
“It’s getting very bad. A lot of accidents are caused by that and the rate doesn’t seem to be doing down,” he said. “We’ve doubled the fines. I think it’s going to take either more fines or a suspension of licenses for three days — something has gotta happen. We can’t continue with this distracted driving because it’s just a hazard out there.”
Another safety issue the Legislature will address, according to Mazza, is safety in work zones. In late August, traffic flagger James Alger was killed by a drugged driver.
In terms of the money it is spending to keep up roads, Vermont ranked 26th. For “total disbursements per state-controlled lane-mile,” the Green Mountain State is spending $72,032, compared to a high of $511,266 for New Jersey and a low of $13,255 for South Carolina.
Some categories where Vermont needs improvement include “administrative disbursements per state-controlled lane-mile,” where Vermont ranks 40th, at $9,928. According to the study’s description, this category means “general and main-office expenditures in support of state-administered highways.” They do not include project-related costs but occasionally include “parked funds,” which are funds from bond sales or asset sales awaiting later expenditure.
Mazza suggested administrative costs might be rising because there is increased federal oversight for all the work that needs to be done.
“It requires more people to engineer and design and meet different specs; I know that’s part of it,” he said.
Mazza expressed concern over what is going to happen to money coming in from the feds. There is also concern about electric vehicles on the road, because of those car owners are not contributing to the gas tax. A similar problem is arising from trucks that run on natural gas.