As the nation's freeway system turned 65 this year — retirement age for many — the folks at TRIP took a look at the condition of interstate highways and found that Minnesota's urban system is among the most congested in the country.

On average, motorists in Minnesota's metro areas putter along 56% of the time during peak hours, making the amount of time that routes such as Interstates 35W, 35E, 94, 494 and 694 are clogged up the 14th highest in the nation, according to the national transportation research nonprofit, which released its findings in "America's Interstate Highway System at 65: Meeting America's Transportation Needs with a Reliable, Safe & Well-Maintained National Highway Network."

The report released this summer also found the state has some of the worst freeway pavement conditions, with 4% of interstates rated in poor condition and 3% of bridges rated as structurally poor or deficient — all of that as drivers took to freeways more often. The number of miles motorists logged in Minnesota rose 9% from 2000 to 2019, creating a freeway system that was the 20th busiest in the nation. State data show usage is approaching pre-pandemic levels.

As the aging system's foundations continue to deteriorate, most freeways, bridges and interchanges across the nation will need to be rebuilt or replaced, TRIP said in its report.

"Unfortunately, funding levels for our state highways and bridges has not kept up, and we've seen the resulting deterioration, congestion and safety problems," said Margaret Donahoe, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance. "With $39 billion needed to adequately support the state's businesses and residents, but only $21 billion in revenue, it's no surprise that Minnesota's interstate system is falling behind."

TRIP did have some praise for the North Star state. In terms of crashes, drivers are three times safer on freeways than on all other roads. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel on Minnesota's freeways in 2019 was 0.23, compared to 0.70 on the state's non-interstate routes, the report said. Safety features such as paved shoulders and median barriers on freeways helped save 53 lives in 2019, TRIP said.

Deadly days to drive

Holidays such as New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving and Independence Day are often dangerous days to be on the roads. Summertime is, too, as motorists put on more miles, road construction intensifies and the number of impaired drivers involved in crashes spikes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Minnesotans for Safe Driving.

While crashes — those resulting in injury or death — can happen anytime, anywhere, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crunched the numbers using federal crash data from 2015 to 2019 and identified the six days of the year associated with the most motor vehicle fatalities. Thankfully, they are all behind us.

Based on the data, drivers are most likely to be involved in a fatal crash on Sept. 16. In the five-year period, 655 people died in crashes that day, an average of 131 each year. Close behind was Independence Day with 645 deaths, followed by Aug. 4 with 632, July 14 with 620, Sept. 30th with 616 and Sept. 3 with 613.

Fatal wrecks in 2019 were most likely to happen between 3 and 9 p.m., and half of them happened on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the institute found.

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