Does Missouri have the worst roads in the Midwest?
Renee Hoagenson, Democratic candidate for the 4th Congressional District, thinks Missouri lags behind neighboring states in road quality.
In an Aug. 28 tweet, Hoagenson claimed that "#Missouri has the worst roads in the Midwest and nearly the worst roads in the country."
Hoagenson, who’s running against incumbent Republican Vicky Hartzler, argued the Trump administration’s plans to invest in infrastructure depends too much on privatization. Private companies would increase tolls and other costs for Missouri residents, Hoagenson claimed, and don’t create much union work.
Experts we talked to agreed Missouri’s roads are severely underfunded.
We’ve fact-checked other public officials’ comments about infrastructure quality, so we wanted to see where Missouri’s roads rank, and if they are as bad as Hoagenson says.
Infrastructure experts told us there isn’t necessarily a formula for comparing state road quality.
"States vary slightly by how they define their pavement conditions," said Hussain Bahia, director of the Modified Asphalt Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, in an email.
We wanted to explore the evidence anyway.
Let’s start with Hoagenson’s tweet, which included a graphic listing the percentage of rural roads in poor condition by state, citing the TRIP 2017 Rural Roads Report. Rural roads make up 82 percent of the state’s total but cost less to maintain than major roadways.
Hoagenson specified that Missouri has the worst roads in the Midwest.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Midwest region contains 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Missouri had a Midwest region high of 21 percent of rural roads in poor condition in the report. Missouri and Washington tied for 11th nationwide.
"So it can be derived that we have some of the worst roads in the country," Hoagenson said in an email.
The American Society of Civil Engineers issues a national infrastructure report card every four years and assigns letter grades on 16 infrastructure categories, including roads.
There are some state-level report cards, but these report cards are based on data compiled by a volunteer state-level committee, which is overseen by a national committee, said Greg DiLoreto, chair of the society’s committee on America’s infrastructure.
Not every state has such a committee in place, and DiLoreto made it clear it does not rank categories or states.
Missouri received a C- for overall infrastructure in 2018 and a D+ for roads, with 24 percent of the state’s public roads considered to be in poor condition.
Wisconsin, which did not receive a letter grade, was the worst in the Midwest, with 27 percent of its public roads in poor condition.
Some of the least maintained roads in the nation are in the Northeast: 54 percent of public roads in Rhode Island are in poor condition; Connecticut’s roads are at 57 percent.
Wisconsin was the only Midwestern state to edge Missouri in how much it costs motorists to drive on bad roads, also computed by the engineering society. Wisconsin’s figure is an extra $637 per motorist per year. Missouri’s $604 is second-highest in the region.
Prompted by Hoagenson, we tried another way of looking at rural road quality: the road maintenance funding ratio.
According to the Citizen’s Guide to Transportation, produced by the Missouri Department of Transportation, the state has the seventh-largest road system in the country at 33,856 miles, and it ranks 46th nationally in revenue per mile.
To Hoagenson, that’s very lopsided.
More roads, less maintenance makes sense as at least one measure, according to William Buttlar, chair of MU’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.
In 2016, Missouri spent $13,379 per state-controlled mile on road maintenance disbursements and $2,024 on administrative disbursements, according to a report sponsored by the nonprofit, non-partisan Reason Foundation on state highway performance.
Maintenance spending was 12th-lowest in the country and administrative spending second-lowest, next to Kentucky. In the Midwest, South Dakota and North Dakota had smaller maintenance disbursements than Missouri.
One more measure that Buttlar pointed out was the International Roughness Index. The index measures the impact of a road’s roughness on a vehicle’s suspension; the lower the IRI, the better the road. Missouri’s IRI data show 19.58 percent of roads considered not "good" or "acceptable," the third-highest proportion in the Midwest and the 26th-highest in the country.
Hoagenson claimed that "Missouri has the worst roads in the Midwest and nearly the worst roads in the country."
Missouri did not rank worst in the Midwest on metrics we looked at except besides Hoagenson’s chosen graphic. That was only for the state’s rural roads.
None of the measures, though, paints a smooth ride for Missouri’s roads. The state ranked near the bottom of the Midwest in nearly all important measures and fell in the bottom half of most rankings nationally. So, Hoagenson has a point that the state’s roads need work.
For those reasons, we rate this claim Half-True.