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.
Finally, infrastructure that cannot keep up with the pace of growth increasingly becomes an economic and social detriment. One way to meet the demands of growth is through savvy, forward-thinking multimodal transportation systems that offer varied, interconnected avenues for transporting goods and people without sacrificing the quality of life for residents.
How is Virginia Doing?
In 2015, 25.8 percent of Virginia's bridges were functionally obsolete or structurally deficient, a very slight drop from 25.9 percent the previous year. Although this rate is the lowest it's been in a decade, it is still higher than the national average (23.4%), and ranks the state 32nd nationally. (Note: Functionally obsolete or structurally deficient bridges are not necessarily unsafe.) Virginia's deficient rate was higher than Tennessee (18.1%), but lower than North Carolina (28.5%) and Maryland (26.0%). Minnesota was again the leading state with just 8.9 percent functionally obsolete or structurally deficient bridges.
Overall, interstate and primary road pavement conditions have improved in recent years. In 2006, nearly 83 percent of interstate roads were rated fair or better, and primary roads were at 84.2 percent. After several years' decline that spanned the Great Recession, both types of roadway started to improve: As of 2015, interstates have surpassed 2006 levels (88.0%), while 81.2 percent of primary roads were in fair or better condition.
However, secondary roads have continued to decline -- from 75.8 percent fair or better in 2007 (no 2006 data is available) to only 59.9 percent in 2015.
Another measure of infrastructure condition rates road surface roughness and ridability. Only 58.2 percent of Virginia's interstate and primary road surface were rated good or very good in 2014, although this is an improvement from 53.8 percent the previous year. This figure is again below the national average of 60.6 percent and ranks the Commonwealth 30th in the country. Peer states Tennessee (78.2%), North Carolina (66.4%), and Maryland (60.0%) were all higher. Kansas had the best surface quality with 84.8 percent of its main roads in good, ridable condition, beating out last year's leader, Nevada (at 93.8% in 2013).
A 2014 report by the California-based Reason Foundation describes the cost-effectiveness of state highway systems. The report ranked the Commonwealth 25th in overall cost-effectiveness of state highways (down from 15th in 2013), as compared to Tennessee (17), North Carolina (20), and Maryland (39). Wyoming ranked first in overall cost-effectiveness.
2014 State Rankings for Infrastructure Cost-Effectiveness
|Source: Reason Foundation: State Highways-Cost Effectiveness Rankings|
Virginia's infrastructure was highly ranked in several categories, including capital and bridge disbursements (spending for improvements) per mile (1st) and rural interstate pavement conditions (8th). However, the Reason Foundation report highlighted areas for improvement, such as narrow lanes on rural roads (48th), interstate / freeway congestion (40th), and maintenance disbursements (32nd).
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, Annual Report 2014
Deficient Bridges data from the Federal Highway Administration, National Bridge Inventory (NBI): www.fhwa.dot.gov/BRIDGE/deficient.cfm
Bridges classified as deficient are either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient and are not necessarily unsafe.
Road Surface data from the Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics 2014
NOTE: Roadways rated include interstates, freeways, expressways, and other principal arterial highways. Road mileage is rated good if its International Roughness Index (IRI), a widely used measure of surface quality, is less than 95.
Reason Foundation 2014: 21st Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems (1984-2012), PDF
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.