The state of our roads

It’s pretty clear to most drivers that roads in the United States, especially the interstate highway system, are in disrepair. Potholes and uneven road surfaces are the most obvious problems, but all over the country roads are crumbling and bridges are in danger of falling down. As the roads get worse, the potential for accidents increases, and drivers may have more flat tires, broken axles and cracked windshields, leading to more insurance claims. And as we’ve all learned, the newer the vehicle, the more costly it is to repair.

To provide an overview of the status of the country’s infrastructure, every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) provides a comprehensive assessment of 16 major categories in ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card. Using a simple A to F school report card format, the Report Card examines current infrastructure conditions and needs, assigning grades and making recommendations to raise them. In addition to providing a national report card, ASCE prepares state and regional report cards, on a rolling basis, following the same methods and grading system.

A — Exceptional, fit for the future

B — Good, adequate for now

C — Mediocre, requires attention

D — Poor, at risk

F — Failing/critical, unfit for purpose

Overall, ASCE gives U.S. roads a grade of D. They are often crowded, frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded, and are becoming more dangerous, ASCE says. More than two out of every five miles of the U.S. urban interstates are congested, and traffic delays cost the country $160 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2014. One out of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition, and U.S. roads have a significant and increasing backlog of rehabilitation needs.

ASCE points out that the U.S. has more than four million miles of roads crisscrossing the United States, from 15-lane interstates to residential streets. In 2016, U.S. roads carried people and goods over three trillion miles — or more than 300 round trips between Earth and Pluto.

Improving road conditions will also improve highway safety and cut down on accidents, ASCE says, making roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists in addition to motor vehicles. ASCE urges communities to consider widening lanes and shoulders; adding and improving medians, guard rails, and parallel rumble strips; upgrading road markings and traffic signals; and using new materials such as high-friction surface treatments.

Additional information can be found on or via the Report Card app.