I knew it the minute I read it. The Reason Foundation's report on the state of the nation's roads, released Thursday, is dead wrong.
Based on pavement condition, traffic congestion, deficient bridges, traffic fatality rates and spending per-mile, the nonprofit Libertarian think tank ranks Florida's highways 32nd in the nation.
Thirty-second? Ridiculous. No way on God's green earth.
Please believe this: I'm nothing, if not well-traveled. I've driven in 48 of the nation's 50 states, most of them extenively. And I can tell you, every single time --after every one of those trips -- it's a joy and a relief to drive back over the Florida line, onto roads I know aren't going to blow one of my tires, knock my wheels out of alignment or send me off on a dirt-road detour where I can spend an hour getting tossed around like a pea in a tin can.
I've said "thank you, Florida" more than once.
So, Thursday -- in spite of Reason Foundation's considerable bonafides -- I read its 22nd annual highway report, as I did its 21st, with more than a little skepticism.
Reason claims the state's overall ranking has worsened, it was 31st in the previous report.
Some of the findings:
- Florida ranks 35th in fatality rate, 11th in deficient bridges, 7th in rural interstate pavement condition, 12th in urban interstate pavement condition, and 29th in urbanized area congestion.
- On spending, Florida ranks 49th in total disbursements per mile and 40th in administrative disbursements per mile.
- Florida's best rankings are rural arterial pavement condition (5th), rural interstate pavement condition (7th), and deficient bridges (11th).
- Florida's worst rankings are total disbursements per mile (49th), and capital-bridge disbursements per mile (49th).
- Florida's state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 21st largest system in the nation.
So, I asked the Florida Department of Transportation about all this. How can it be that roads in other states where I visit regularly, roads I see (and feel and read frightening reports on) ... how can they be ranked higher than Florida's?
How can Mississippi, for goodness sake, where it takes MDOT six months to patch a pothole on Old Spanish Trail, be ranked 10th?
Mississippi is a state where we own a home. I just paid my $550 annual Mississippi tag fee, only to find out less than one-sixteenth of it will go to fix roads or build needed new ones. I wonder how the Magnolia State reports that one to Reason.
Graft and corruption, thy name is MDOT. (And I don't have to back that up, every couple of years newspapers in Mississippi win investigative prizes exposing the continuing MDOT boondoggle.)
At any rate, FDOT got back to me Friday with its response to the Reason Report.
"Under Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Transportation made record investments in the state’s transportation system and Florida continues to have some of the best transportation infrastructure in the country," FDOT says.
And listen to this:
- The U.S. Chamber Foundation has ranked Florida the No. 1 state in the nation for infrastructure. Is anybody surprised? Look at the incredible bridges, including the the bridges between the Keys and the mainland. Look at the road traffic that 20 million residents and as many visitors annually generate.
- A Washington Post columnist (Reid Wilson) wrote that Florida has the best roads and bridges in the country: “… One state stands out: Florida ranks near the top in nearly every measure of road transportation.” Wilson sees what I see.
- Florida has among the lowest percentage of structurally deficient bridges nationally, which translates into fewer weight-restricted postings and a high performing transportation network.
- Every year, the independent Florida Transportation Commission conducts a performance and production review of the department. Last year, the commission found the department met or exceeded the objectives of 16 of the 17 primary measures for Fiscal 2014/15.
This was FTC Chairman Jay Trumbull's quote at the time. “Gov. Scott has focused on job creation across Florida and transportation investments are a direct impact on growing our economy. I congratulate Secretary Boxold and the Florida Department of Transportation on its ability to consistently meet the capacity and mobility needs of its people, businesses and visitors while investing its budgeted dollars efficiently and effectively. FDOT gets an ‘A’ on its report card.”
Matthew D. Ubben, current FTC executive director, clearly believes the Reason Foundation got it wrong. When he saw the Reason Foundation report, he fired out the following statement:
“Approximately 52 percent of the Florida Department of Transportation budget goes toward the preservation and maintenance of the existing transportation system, yet this is factored against Florida in the overall rankings.
"The ‘maintenance disbursements per state-controlled mile’ indicator works against states that have made policy decisions to preserve its existing system, as we have done in Florida. The bottom line is, if a state’s highways and bridges are in good condition by spending a greater percentage of resources, then by Reason’s methodology, we can end up near the bottom of the cost effectiveness rankings.
"This flawed methodology fails to reflect actual road and bridge conditions experienced by our 20 million citizens and 100 million annual visitors who travel on some of the best pavement conditions in the nation.
"For this reason, we agree with the assessment by the Federal Highway Administration, the data source used in the analysis, that highway statistical information is not easily comparable across states.”
It makes perfect sense to me. Look at the four top-ranked states in Reason's ranking -- South Carolina, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. Now compare their road-building challenges with Forida's -- or almost any other state's.
Ubben reminds me that FDOT currently maintains 12,110 miles of the public road system, split between rural areas and cities.
"Although the State Highway System consists of only 10 percent of the lane miles in Florida, it carries more than half of Florida’s total traffic," he says. "The remaining 90 percent of roadways are maintained by either counties or cities. Since 1984, the number of highway system miles has increased by 26 percent, while the daily vehicle miles traveled increased by 90 percent."
In case you're wondering, the FTC is an appointed body that provides performance and fiscal oversight of FDOT. It's a big deal. It also makes transportation policy recommendations to Scott and the Legislature.
Meanwhile, I'm still trying to recollect. I've been a reporter or an editor in tourist-rich Florida since 1977 and not once can I remember getting a call from a visitor complaining about Florida's roads.
OK, the visitor-complaint thing is hardly a scientific conclusion, but it means something to me. I've always been proud of Florida roads. And frankly, I think the folks at FDOT deserve more praise and a lot less Reason.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith