Report: Louisiana Roads are in Dangerous Shape

January 9, 2007

Louisiana’s roads and bridges remain in poor condition and the state gets failing grades for road safety and highway construction, a national transportation research agency says in a report.

Almost half of the state’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and almost one-third of the state’s bridges are inadequate, according to The Road Improvement Program, a Washington-based group backed by heavy-equipment manufacturers, insurance companies, labor unions and firms involved with highway engineering and construction.

The report, which was issued Jan. 8, said the state needs to spend about $500 million a year more on highway, bridge and roadway improvement and safety measures.

State Department of Transportation and Development spokesman Mark Lambert said the state has budgeted about $1.6 billion for highway and bridge construction for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Lambert said the budget does not include about $400 million set aside for emergency road and bridge repairs to areas hit hard by hurricanes in 2005. Lambert said the administration wanted to put another $400 million into road projects at the December special session but that plan was rejected by lawmakers.

The report is based on state and federal data collected in 2005, the last year for which numbers are available.

The report is the first one that grades the state’s road conditions in five categories, TRIP Policy and Research Director Frank Moretti said.

He said the state got an “F” for the conditions of its roads; a “D-minus” for the conditions of its bridges that are at least 20 feet long; a “C” for congestion and ways to deal with it; an “F” for highway safety based on a fatality rate of 2.1 people per 100 million miles traveled; and a “D” for financing highway and bridge needs.

Moretti said the last time The Road Improvement Program surveyed the state was in 2001, when it found that 24 percent of Louisiana roadways were in poor condition and 26 percent were mediocre. The new study, he said shows slight improvement: 22 percent are in poor condition and 25 percent are in mediocre shape.

Moretti said the national numbers show that 13 percent of the major highways in the country are in poor condition and 20 percent are in mediocre shape.

He said 39 percent of the state’s highways are in good shape – compared to 40 percent in 2001 – both totals significantly lower than the 75 percent “for which state and local organizations strive.”

“There have been minor improvements but the state continues to lag far behind most other states,” he said.

“This is stuff we know,” Lambert said. “Our roads and bridges are in bad shape.”

He said the report does not take into account the $75 million that has been allocated to so-called rural roads in the past few years, those not eligible for federal money. He said the agency has cut its payroll from 5,200 to about 4,800 “doing more with less” and putting more money into highways.

The study also found that the fatality rate on highways from 2001 to 2005, was 2.1 per 100 million miles traveled in Louisiana, 40 percent higher than the national average of 1.5 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.

In both 2001 and 2005, Louisiana has been in the bottom “fifth of states for pavement conditions and traffic fatality rates and the bottom third of bridge conditions,” Moretti said.

The highest grade the state got was a “C” for dealing with congestion on major roads. Moretti said traffic on Louisiana highways has increased by 55 percent, from 21 billion vehicle miles traveled in 1990 to 32.5 billion in 2005. Meanwhile, the report said, roadway capacity in the state has increased 9 percent in that time.

Moretti said 28 percent of the state’s urban interstate highways and other major roads now carry traffic volumes that result in “significant rush-hour delays, a 6 percent increase since 2000.”

By 2030, the report said, a nearly 100 percent increase in traffic on Louisiana highways is projected, Moretti said.

Information from: The Times-Picayune,

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