Movie-watchers, especially those of a certain age, will remember this final line from a 1980s blockbuster:
"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads."
Sometimes, it might seem as if proponents of a holistic system of getting around — of buses and light rail, and of safer biking and walking — are trying to make a similar point. At least skeptics think so.
But sensible supporters of that vision understand the all-encompassing nature of "holistic" and know that we do need roads, now and in any plausible future. So it's a good thing that, according to a recently released ranking, Minnesota's road situation is good and getting better. Considering the state's perpetual freeze-thaw cycle, that's worth celebrating.
The ranking comes from the 25th Annual Highway Report by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank that also puts out the eponymous monthly magazine Reason. It places Minnesota 15th among the states in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, an improvement of seven spots from the previous report and 10 spots from the one before that.
How did that happen?
The report "measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-controlled highways in 13 categories." They include "pavement condition, traffic congestion, structurally deficient bridges, traffic fatalities, and spending (capital, maintenance, administrative, overall) per mile." The rankings are based, among other things, on data submitted by state agencies to the federal government. There's a bit of lag — the 2020 report reflects state data from 2018, although some of the other information comes from 2019.
Minnesota ranked 21st in state-controlled miles, with 13,662. Its biggest comparative change among Reason's inputs was in spending per mile — more so for building or widening roads and bridges than for routine upkeep. (The ranking for capital and bridge disbursements moved from 31st to 14th. The state's maintenance ranking was essentially static at 30th. So was its ranking in administrative spending, at 23rd.)
The state's best rankings by category were in its overall fatality rate (second lowest) and rural fatality rate (third lowest). But those may suffer in future rankings, given the higher pace of traffic deaths in 2020.
What else can be better?
"To improve in the rankings," according to the report's lead author, "Minnesota needs to reduce its traffic congestion and improve its urban interstate pavement condition. Minnesota ranks in the bottom 15 for traffic congestion and the bottom 20 for urban interstate pavement condition."
People outside of the metro area might take issue with such a focus. Nevertheless, it's Reason's rationale.
The new report isn't the only one to have given Minnesota largely good marks. U.S. News and World Report, which bases its ranking on commute time, road quality, bridge quality and public transit usage, puts Minnesota fourth. Quote Wizard, an insurance aggregator that produces a sort of ignominy rating based on poor infrastructure — percentage of roads in poor condition, annual cost per motorist from roads in need of repair and percentage of structurally deficient bridges — places the state 34th (lower in this case being desirable).
All these results come with an informal asterisk, of course — one indicating clinical detachment. They can't account for Minnesotans' day-to-day impressions.
Not all the news is pride-puffing for the North Star State, anyway. According to Reason, both North Dakota (No. 1) and South Dakota (No. 11) are doing better to our west, though obviously with less-onerous urban traffic demands. Meanwhile, although our eastern and southern neighbors rank below us, both Wisconsin (up 16 positions, to 22nd) and Iowa (up 11, to 20th) are showing faster improvement.