Have you ever wondered how your state's transportation priorities stack up against those in other states? Sure, we hear about new train lines in Oregon and new highways in Florida on the news, but what about all the other states in between?

Today we're sharing a fascinating, educational and free tool, created by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, that you can use to compare transportation spending in all fifty states.

Here's a description of the project, from the Track State Dollars website

How are states spending transportation construction dollars? Are states prioritizing creating new roads or maintaining their existing roadway network? Are states developing bicycle and pedestrian projects or building new transit lines? How do states’ investments in transportation projects compare to each other? In many states, basic answers to these questions are surprisingly hard to find.

The goal of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s 50-state analysis, Tracking State Transportation Dollars, was to begin to answer these questions so the public can better understand transportation priorities.

You can choose to view data in Map format, looking at the whole country and comparing the different percentages of total transportation spending that each state devotes to certain types of projects, including:

  • Bridge Maintenance/Replacement
  • Transit
  • Road Maintenance/Minor Widening
  • Bicycle/Pedestrian
  • Road/Bridge Project with Bicycle/Pedestrian Components
  • Safety
  • New Road Capacity
  • Bridge Capacity Expansion

 Or you can view specific information on each state in its own page. Here are two examples. First is Connecticut:

You can see that, while Connecticut is spending almost 1/4 of its budget on Road and Bridge Capacity Expansion, it is spending 44% on transit, signaling a set of priorities that goes far beyond just building new roads.

Now let's look at Arizona's transportation spending:

With 52% of funding going toward New Road Capacity and just 14% to maintenance of bridges and roads, Arizona is clearly in a "Build Build Build" mindset.

There are other gems in this data. Disappointingly, only three states in the entire country spend more than 4% of their transportation budgets on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Clocking in at a whopping 5% of state budget are Georgia, Tennessee and Oregon. 

And the winner for biggest percentage of budget spent on "New Road Capacity"? That's Arkansas at 54%. Has Arkansas recently experienced a massive increase in population that would merit such excessive road expansion funding? Nope. Now the tool doesn't tell you this information, but it is an excellent starting place for further research and exploration.

The data for this tool was compiled by looking at each state's "statewide transportation improvement program" (STIP), which is a four year plan projecting the use of federal transportation dollars in addition to state, local and private funding. As the Track State Dollars website explains:

While many states have developed their own transportation planning documents in addition to the statewide transportation improvement program, the statewide transportation improvement program is the only short-term transportation planning document each state must produce for the federal government. Because the document shows planned transportation investment in the near future, it is a good marker of each state’s transportation infrastructure spending priorities.

The tool is highly informative, easy to understand, and easy to use. I only have a small quarrel with a couple of the categories of spending. For instance, I wish that "Road Maintenance" and "Minor Widening" were two separate categories instead of one. The label "Safety" is also suspect. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign defines this as: "All projects categorized by state departments of transportation as “safety,” as well as signals, signing, guard rails and projects funded by the Highway Safety Improvement Program." Now, I have no doubt that this organization did the best they could with the data available to them. This is more a critique of the way state budgets are organized and of the way so many DOTs misunderstand what "safety" really means.

At the end of the day, this tool is likely to confirm your worst fears: As Josh McCarty, who originally told us about it, remarked in an email, "I find it amazing that for all the whining and soothsaying about bridges and potholes, this map clearly shows almost every state spends way more on building than fixing."


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