Originally created 09/17/97

Study: Georgia has top urban highways



WASHINGTON - Georgia, it seems, has not a single mile of urban highway in poor condition. None in mediocre condition either. And there's not another state, according to a study released Tuesday, that can make a similar claim to road maintenance fame.

"We get compliments daily from people from other states, from people in Georgia who've been to other states," said Jerry Stargel, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Transportation. "The only complaints are from people who haven't been anywhere else."

In South Carolina, 13 percent of the urban roads were rated poor or mediocre. South Carolina spent the smallest percentage of flexible federal funds that could be used for road repair to actually fix highways, the study said.

South Carolina used just 7 percent of available money for urban road repair, though the head of the state Transportation Board noted a study by the University of North Carolina-Charlotte found South Carolina to have the nation's most cost-efficient system.

"The independent studies on South Carolina roads show quite the opposite," said H.B. "Buck" Limehouse. "It's true that we are a donor state and don't have as much money as other states to spend on maintenance, but those studies show we do a good job with what we have."

The study by the Environmental Working Group and the Surface Transportation Policy Project used federal highway records to compare road conditions on urban freeways and interstates in 38 states to each state's spending for maintenance and new construction.

Out of Georgia's 607 miles of urban highways, none were rated poor or mediocre and only 9 percent were considered fair. The next best rating went to neighboring Alabama, with none poor, only 0.66 percent mediocre and 4.6 percent fair.

The worst urban roads were in Iowa, where 56 percent were rated as poor or mediocre. Illinois and Florida both came in at 47 percent.

Since Georgia had no urban highways rated in need of immediate repair, it also ranked at the bottom of the study's pothole index, which is the amount of state spending on urban highway repairs per mile of highway needing emergency work.

Steven Henry, state highway maintenance engineer, said Georgia keeps its urban freeways in good repair because it resurfaces 10 percent of all roads each year. That's much less expensive than waiting until a highway has deteriorated to the point that it has to be rebuilt, he said.

"Our state policy for decades has been you never build more than you can maintain," said Mr. Henry. "We try to budget for the maintenance of roadways when we build them."

Ted Allred, regional director of the AAA Auto Club South, agreed that Georgia has one of the best maintained interstate systems in the country, but he said roads in rural areas and smaller cities don't rate as well.

"Once you leave the major highway system, that assessment is no longer correct," said Mr. Allred.

Georgia motorists interviewed Tuesday were not surprised by the study's findings.

Tyrus Fitzpatrick, 30, a construction engineer with an Atlanta company, said he travels frequently to the Washington area and none of the roads there "are as smooth or kept up as those here in Georgia."

Julie Havron, 61, of Atlanta, said Georgia's freeways compare favorably with those in surrounding states, even if all the maintenance work does cause frequent hassles for motorists.

"They're always doing some kind of construction but they're doing the repairs and that's what important," she said.

Among Georgia's metropolitan areas, the study found that 20 percent of the highways in Athens were in fair condition, the highest percentage in the state. Columbus had 14 percent in fair condition, Augusta 13 percent, Atlanta 11 percent, Savannah 6 percent, Macon-Warner Robins 3 percent and Albany, none.