New Jersey is spending big on its state-controlled highways, but roads are still in need of improvement.

The Reason Foundation's "Annual Highway Report" finds the state's highway system ranks dead last in the nation in road conditions and cost-effectiveness, the third year in a row New Jersey ranked last.

"When the state performs this poorly, and it does basically year in and year out, there are some significant problems that need to be addressed," said Baruch Feigenbaum, senior managing director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation.

To compile the ranking, the report looked at state-controlled highways in 13 different categories including traffic fatalities, pavement and bridge conditions, delays due to congestion, spending per mile and administrative costs.

"Unfortunately for New Jersey, the state has very high costs, pretty poor pavement conditions and pretty significant traffic congestion," said Feigenbaum. "You put all of that together, even with relatively good safety metrics, and the state still ranks last."

New Jersey sde of the George Washington Bridge
New Jersey sde of the George Washington Bridge (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

New Jersey spends big

Feigenbaum said one reason why New Jersey gets such a miserable rating is because of costs, adding that the state spends two or three times more what its comparable states like Connecticut or Maryland spend.

The report, using data submitted to the federal government, finds New Jersey spends $1.1 million per mile of state-controlled highway. That’s $929,000 more than California spends per mile on its state-controlled highways, and $762,000 more than New York spends per mile of highway.

So why does New Jersey spend so much on its highways? Part of the reason is due to the type of workers New Jersey employs for its roadways projects.

Feigenbaum said the state uses union labor, which is more expensive. However, he notes that New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts also rely on union labor and their costs are still much lower when compared to New Jersey.

And despite all the money New Jersey devotes to its roadway spending, the report finds the pavement quality tends to be worse when compared to other Northeastern states. In fact, Feigenbaum said it's about 10% to 20% worse.

Traffic spirals up-and-down a section of Route 495 to the Lincoln Tunnel, in Weehauken,
Traffic spirals up-and-down a section of Route 495 to the Lincoln Tunnel, in Weehauken (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Project selection driving up costs

Feigenbaum said what appears to be an issue for the Garden State is overall project selection.

"How the projects are getting selected and which projects are getting selected — are they the ones that most need to be done.”

Feigenbaum said New Jersey doesn’t seem to be using a quantitative cost-benefit selection process when it comes to which projects move forward.

Reducing roadway costs

New Jersey does not seem to look for innovative ways to reduce costs while maintaining road quality, similar to what states like Maryland and Massachusetts are doing, according to Feigenbaum.

Another problem, according to Feigenbaum, is that New Jersey doesn't take advantage of public-private partnerships, which he said can significantly reduce costs, especially to fix structurally deficient bridges.

FILE - This photo from Friday July 31, 2020, shows toll signage as motorists travel along the New Jersey Turnpike in Carneys Point, N.J. The first part of a one-two punch for New Jersey drivers takes effect Sunday with hikes on the state's two major toll roads. The state turnpike authority approved the increases in May over objections of residents who criticized the timing during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
FILE - This photo from Friday July 31, 2020, shows toll signage as motorists travel along the New Jersey Turnpike in Carneys Point, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

New Jersey fares well with safety

Feigenbaum said one area where the Garden State performs well is fatality rates.

“For example the New Jersey Turnpike is considered one of the safest roads in the world, and so that’s a pretty good thing to have,” he said.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation was asked to comment on the report but they declined to respond.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

9 Dumb Things About New Jersey

[carbongallery id="61539352897a0b5a09896aae"

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM