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State highway conditions rank low in national study

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Conditions on Alabama’s highways deteriorated dramatically from 2000 to 2005, with Alabama dropping from 11th to 43rd in an annual analysis of states’ highway systems.

Alabama’s fall was the sharpest of any state during the five-year period covered by the report funded by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Los Angeles.

“The state’s system is deteriorating,” wrote two researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who prepared the report.

They said Alabama’s decline stemmed from worsening conditions on the state’s urban and rural interstate highways, traffic congestion on Birmingham’s urban interstates, and a higher-than-average fatality rate.

But officials at the state Transportation Department take exception to the report, saying that conditions and state funding vary from state to state.

“Surveys like this are tantamount to comparing apples to oranges,” department spokes-man Tony Harris said.

He noted that Alabama is spending $25 million to widen Alabama 113 in South Alabama between U.S. 31 and Interstate 65 as a hurricane evacuation route, while other states may never have to spend a dime on hurricane preparedness.

The annual study, in its 16th year, ranked highway systems based on data from 1984 through 2005.

Other statistics

Overall, it ranked North Dakota’s highways the best and New Jersey’s the worst. Among Alabama’s neighbors, Georgia ranked sixth overall, Tennessee 20th, Mississippi 25th and Florida 41st.

In individual categories, Alabama ranked 49th in the percentage of miles of urban interstates in poor condition and 48th in the percentage of miles of rural interstates in poor condition.

Harris said the department is addressing that by doubling its resurfacing program.

The study put Alabama 26th in urban interstate congestion.

Harris said the department is addressing that with widening projects on Interstate 65 in Montgomery and Birmingham and Interstate 20 in Birmingham.

Alabama finished 40th in traffic fatalities, with 1.8 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles.

Harris said the department is always looking for engineering methods to make roads safer, but most traffic fatalities are the result of driver error.

The report’s findings are not a surprise to Envision 2020, a group established to address issues in the Montgomery metropolitan area.

“Look at I-65 in Montgomery,” said Lynn Beshear, the group’s executive director. “We all know that needs to be improved.”

Beshear said the positive
side of the report is that it allows the state “see where we want to go and lets us look at our transportation system as a whole.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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