Cajun Cleanup

| January 29, 2009

Highway construction projects are suffering from a lack of state funding due to lower fuel tax funding in recent months.

It’s been a tumultuous year for the nation’s roadways. Rapid fuel and construction materials price hikes have been followed by steep drops and broad economic woes. Subsequent drops in vehicle miles traveled have taken a toll on state highway revenue. Public officials continue to debate the merits of alternative highway funding mechanisms.

Meanwhile, roads are aging. Durango, Colo.-based independent owner-operator Zak Hargraves says there are many reasons for the poor quality of the nation’s highway network, but chief among them are state DOTs’ failed attempts to get “as many miles out of their budget as possible,” he says. “Most have done a disservice in accepting a lower quality of construction.”

A prime example of this dynamic, he says, is the many old concrete highways on which right-angle expansion cuts, combined with neglectful maintenance, result in widespread “hobby-horsing” from uneven pavement. That’s one of the chief complaints against I-10 in Louisiana, the third-year “winner” in the Worst Highway Segment category of Overdrive’s Highway Report Card survey.

But in its third year at the top of the Worst Roads list, Louisiana is perhaps a success story in the making, as is Pennsylvania. In spite of its past poor rankings, I-80 within Pennsylvania’s borders had likewise placed high in Overdrive’s survey for Most Improved Highway Segment in recent years. This year owner-operators ranked it first for Most Improved and as the nation’s second best highway segment.

Clearly, things are in flux for perennially troubled states. Here is a closer look at them and a few others named the five states with the worst roads.

2008 Worst Roads Results

  1. Louisiana
    ‘Really, really bad’

    Louisiana might be the new Pennsylvania. This year the Bayou State mimics its northern sister, which dominated the Worst Roads rankings for nearly a decade from the inception of Overdrive’s survey in 1991. Louisiana received a 60 percent larger vote total in the category, the largest victory margin since it took the Worst Roads crown in 2006 after hurricanes Katrina and Rita chewed up its highway network.

    Though crews are working on western sections of I-10, the bad segments west of New Orleans “will beat you to death,” says Overdrive 2008 Trucker of the Year Bruce Bryant, leased to Landstar System. Based in Mobile, Ala., Bryant runs I-10 in Louisiana regularly and has seen marked improvements in the past year.

    “They’ve completed a stretch from the state line in Texas east to about Sulphur,” he says. “It’s nice and smooth, but from there all the way over to about the 44-mile marker, it’s really, really bad.” Bryant also notes a stretch from near Mile Marker 44 east to Lafayette has been improved.

    Survey respondents echoed his sentiments. I-20, once a fixture in the top 10 for Worst Highway Segment, has disappeared from the rankings as improvements have been made. I-10, though it topped that list, also placed third for Most Improved Segment.

    If you can spare the extra time, Bryant says, the state’s off-interstate highways can be good alternates. U.S. 90, for example, at times runs parallel to some of the rougher sections of I-10.

  2. Pennsylvania
    ‘The Turnpike is a mess’

    John Peterson says he drove I-80 every week during his years as a state representative, part of which coincided with Pennsylvania’s top ranking for Worst Roads through the 1990s. “When I drive it today,” he says, “there’s no comparison.”

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