Forget what you think you know about the United States' crumbling infrastructure. The simple truth is that the American public highway system has been steadily improving for at least two decades -- at least according to David Hartgen, Emeritus Transportation Professor at UNC Charlotte and author of the Reason Foundation's 2013 Annual Highway Report.
Hartgen, who has been compiling the annual report for 20 years now, works with data that each state submits to the federal government in order to receive federal funds. He uses eleven factors, including highway spending, pavement and bridge conditions, urban congestion and fatality rates, to get a complete picture of states' public highway system.
What he's found challenges the common narrative that U.S. infrastructure is in dire straits.
"Anyone who has driven around the country for a number of years knows that the system is actually in pretty good shape," said Hartgen in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "This idea that we have a crisis of crumbling infrastructure that we've got to throw another $100 billion at is just plain wrong."
The 2013 rankings are based on 2009 state reports, the most recent year that statistics are available for all states. That means that most of the effects of President Barack Obama's stimulus package, which hit states with infrastructure funding in 2009 and 2010, have yet to be accounted for -- and the infusion would certainly improve state highway systems even more, Hartgen pointed out.
Click through the slideshow below to see the worst-performing state highway systems according to Reason Foundation's 2013 Highway Report. Captions in each slide are from the report's breakdowns on individual states. Story continues below.
20 Worst States For Public Highways (2013)
Still, Hartgen's report says that while some states are continuing to improve their highways, problems seem to cluster in a small group of states: California, Alaska, Rhode Island and New Jersey are among the worst for public highway systems.
The difference between these two groups?
"A focus on early maintenance," said Hartgen. Repairing already-existing infrastructure early and often ensures that states ultimately spend less overall because the damage is less extreme.
And because of the importance of early maintenance, said Hartgen, state politicians need to learn to "just say no" to new projects that areas say they need for their economic development and instead push the money toward improving already-existing infrastructure.
"The purpose of transportation is to provide mobility so we can get around," said Hartgen. "It's not to provide new jobs."
Reason Foundation is a libertarian, non-partisan think tank based in Los Angeles, Calif. It produces Reason magazine and Reason.tv. Hartgen, a Reason Foundation senior fellow, is also the president of Hartgen Group, a consulting agency focused on transportation issues.