Colorado falls to 43rd in national highway ranking. But CDOT may be turning a corner

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Traffic coming west down Floyd Hill on Interstate 70, Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.

Colorado does not fare well in the Reason Foundation’s most recent ranking of each state’s highway system.

The libertarian think tank measures cost-effectiveness, pavement conditions, safety record, and other metrics. Colorado fell from 37th to 43rd overall in this year’s report

Colorado ranks 47th for rural interstate pavement condition and 40th in urban interstate pavement condition. Its rankings for pavement conditions on rural and urban arterial roads is better, but still middling: 26th and 31st, respectively. Its fatality rates and traffic congestion rates are in the 20s and 30s.

“There’s nothing Colorado does extremely well,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, Reason’s senior managing director of transportation policy.

Colorado’s transportation leaders complained for years that the state’s highway system was woefully underfunded. In 2021, the Colorado legislature approved a massive bill that will raise billions of dollars for transportation in the state. 

“Thanks to this sustained state funding in infrastructure, we are addressing critical stretches of interstate that need upgrades this year, with more to come in the next several construction seasons,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Inzeo wrote in an email.

That new money and the projects it funds aren’t reflected in this report, which relies on data from 2020. That was the most recent data available, Feigenbaum said.

“If they’re doing what they say they’re doing and spending those resources on pavement quality, I would expect that in future reports we’re going to see some better numbers,” he said.

But the report also faults Colorado for the relatively high amount of money it spends on maintenance when compared to the number of lane-miles addressed, suggesting it should be getting more for its money.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” Feigenbaum said.

Colorado’s topography and climate both contribute to significant maintenance needs, Inzeo said. The agency, for example, will spend an extra $45 million this year on snow removal and road repairs after a particularly brutal winter. (And, Inzeo added, another big storm is coming later this week.)

“CDOT's mission is to operate the state's transportation system to ensure every traveler can get where they are going safely, and we will maintain our system to meet that mission,” he wrote in an email.