Virginia's transportation infrastructure supports business, tourism, and economic growth, as well as the daily life of citizens. Continued growth in population, vehicular travel, and freight throughput has increased demands on a system that is struggling to keep pace. The additional strain on roads and bridges accelerates deterioration, creating a need for continuous maintenance and upgrades.
Why is This Important?
Transportation infrastructure that is not properly maintained will gradually deteriorate and lead to increasingly poor service, congestion, and reduced safety levels. Compared to properly maintained roads, those with potholes, poorly lit intersections, and shoulders littered with debris create more congestion and increased accidents per mile. Bridges age with time and can become significant safety hazards.
Transit buses and locomotives past federally recommended replacement age are less safe and reliable. Choke points along Virginia's rail lines could challenge the ability of the state's rail system to handle anticipated increases in freight movement. Without sufficient investment, ports and airports will find it harder to sustain current service levels or accommodate new growth.
How is Virginia Doing?
In 2012, 26.7 percent of Virginia's bridges were functionally obsolete or structurally deficient -- higher than the national average (24.9%) and ranking the state 31st nationally. (Note: Functionally obsolete or structurally deficient bridges are not necessarily unsafe.) Virginia's rate was higher than Tennessee (19.3%), but lower than North Carolina (30.2%) and Maryland (27.7%). Minnesota was again the leading state with just 12.3 percent functionally obsolete or structurally deficient bridges.
Overall, interstate and primary road pavement conditions have improved in recent years, while secondary roads have deteriorated. Nearly 83 percent of interstate roads in 2006 were rated fair or better, and primary roads were at 84.2 percent. After several years' decline, interstate highways in 2012 were back to 2006 levels (82.9%), and 81.2 percent of primary roads were again in fair or better condition. However, secondary roads continued to decline from 75.8 percent fair or better in 2007 (no 2006 data is available) to only 60.7 percent in 2012.
The most recent (2010) report by the California-based Reason Foundation describes the cost-effectiveness of Virginia's highway system. The report ranked the Commonwealth 18th in overall cost-effectiveness of state highways (down from 12th in 2009), compared to Tennessee (19), North Carolina (21), and Maryland (43). North Dakota again ranked first in overall performance.
2010 State Rankings for Infrastructure Cost-Effectiveness
|Source: Reason Foundation: State Highways-Cost Effectiveness Rankings|
Virginia's infrastructure was highly ranked in several categories, including rural interstate pavement condition (1st) and capital and bridge disbursements per mile (4th). However, the Reason Foundation report highlighted areas for improvement, such as narrow lanes on rural roads (45th) and deficient or functionally obsolete bridges (32nd in this report).
According to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the average age of vehicles in Virginia’s public transit fleets-- which can include buses, rail cars, subway cars, vans, etc. -- increased from 6.2 years in 2009 to 7.2 in 2011.
What Influences Infrastructure Condition?
The condition of existing infrastructure is primarily influenced by four factors: quality of construction, age, usage levels, and maintenance expenditures. When transportation infrastructure is built, there is a trade-off between cost and longevity. For example, an increased investment in construction can yield a road or bridge that takes longer to age and is more resistant to the wear and tear caused by increased traffic and heavier loads. In addition, regular maintenance can both improve and extend the life span. Volatility in the price of fuel and raw materials can also add substantially to the cost of maintenance.
What is the State's Role?
State government has the primary responsibility for constructing and maintaining transportation infrastructure in Virginia. State leaders and the legislature determine the amount of funding allocated for construction and maintenance in its biennial budgets.
VDOT is the state agency responsible for building and maintaining road infrastructure; it also chooses the material and construction techniques used, making trade-off decisions between cost and service lifespan, between replacement or repair. VDOT uses an asset monitoring system to accurately assess maintenance needs and to establish priorities.
The Department of Aviation, the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and the Virginia Port Authority have either complete or shared responsibilities for maintaining airports, transit facilities, and ports, respectively.
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data Definitions and Sources
Virginia Department of Transportation: virginiadot.org
Deficient Bridges data from the Federal Highway
Administration, National Bridge Inventory
(updated annually in January)
Bridges classified as deficient are either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient and are not necessarily unsafe.
- Annual Report 2012 (pdf)
- 2011 Transportation Performance Score
Reason Foundation 2010: 19th Annual Report
on the Performance of State Highway Systems
(updated annually in September)
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.