Traffic moves along the Maine Turnpike in Auburn on Friday. Maine highways have been named among the best in the nation based on spending and condition. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Maine’s highways are among the best in the nation, according to a new report from the Reason Foundation, which promotes free market solutions and is skeptical of government spending.

The foundation this week ranked Maine fourth among the states in terms of both the condition and cost-effectiveness of its highways, far ahead of its New England neighbors.

“Maine is doing better than comparable states,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, the report’s lead author and assistant director of transportation at the foundation, a libertarian think tank based in Los Angeles.

Part of what makes Maine do so well in Reason’s rankings is that the foundation gives a lot of weight to highway spending, with less better than more, in its eyes. So Maine’s chronic underfunding of its transportation infrastructure, which experts say is detrimental over the long haul, gives it a boost in the report.

“This think tank’s rankings are based on value, not engineering,” Paul Merrill, the Maine Department of Transportation spokesman, said Friday.

“Part of the reason Maine ranks so high based on these metrics is that we have a chronic unmet funding need that prevents us from investing more in roads and bridges,” he said.

Merrill said that given the longtime underfunding, it’s crucial for state lawmakers to pass a $105 million transportation bond when they meet in special session Monday.

Maine Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note told the Portland Press Herald recently that legislators have to back the bond this month so it can be placed on the November ballot “or we are going to be in a world of hurt.”

Even so, Maine had the best pavement conditions on its major rural roads of any state, the foundation determined in its 24th annual report on America’s roads and bridges.

In the previous annual report, Maine was ranked 23rd, but it jumped substantially because the rankings ceased penalizing the state for having so many narrow, rural arterial lanes.

The overall report found that overall “the nation’s highway conditions are deteriorating, especially in a group of problem-plagued states struggling to repair deficient bridges, maintain interstate pavement and reduce urban traffic congestion.”

Feigenbaum said in a prepared statement that there has been “a decades-long trend of incremental improvement” in some key categories, but America’s highway system as a whole has worsened.

“This year we see some improvement on structurally deficient bridges, but pavement conditions on rural and urban highways are declining, the rise in traffic fatalities is worrying, and we aren’t making needed progress on traffic congestion in our major cities,” he said.

To carry out its report, the foundation rated each state in 13 categories, from congestion to administrative cost per mile of road. It used data from 2016 and 2017, the most recent available.

Maine’s lowest rank was for the condition of its bridges, placing 41st in the country. It also spends more than most states in maintenance costs per mile, though that may be mostly a function of its harsh winters.

Reason Foundation

Its next closest competitor in New England is Vermont, which ranked 19th. New Hampshire placed 24th.

The three southern New England states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut — were each among the bottom seven states in the land, along with New York and last-place New Jersey. New Jersey got a thumbs down from Reason for spending more than any other state for each mile of road while also suffering among the worst congestion.

North Dakota, Virginia and Missouri outranked Maine in the report.

Maine is in the top 10 in terms of urban congestion, capital costs per mile and pavement condition on both rural highways and arterials.

Maine officials have said repeatedly that the state’s transportation infrastructure isn’t being repaired as quickly as needed to prevent deterioration. Chronically underfunded, the state has had to sell bonds for five straight years to help make up the funding gap to keep the state’s roads and bridges safe.

Maine has more than 1,400 miles of interstates and major arterials along with thousands of miles of other state byways that tie into the bigger roads.

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