BOSTON — Potholes, poor pavement and gridlock all conspire to make Massachusetts' highway system the fifth worst in the country, according to a new report that suggests the state's road and traffic woes are getting worse.
The annual study by The Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank based in Los Angeles, ranks Massachusetts as 46th in highway performance — two spots lower than the previous year.
The Bay State also spent more than other states on roadway upgrades in 2016 — an average of $216,066 a mile, a figure exceeded by only Florida and New Jersey.
By comparison, New Hampshire spent about $64,176 a mile in 2016, while Vermont spent $72,032, according to the report. The national average was $71,117 per mile.
"To improve in the rankings, Massachusetts needs to reduce its disbursements, improve its arterial pavement condition, and reduce its traffic congestion," the report's authors said in a statement.
The dismal rankings come as no surprise to transit advocates, who say the crumbling highway and transportation system has reached a crisis point.
"It's yet another indication of how dire the situation is," said Matt Casale, transportation campaign director for Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group. "This shows that our entire transportation system is struggling and that we need to prioritize things that will make a difference to build a modern, sustainable and efficient network."
Conservative groups such as the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said the report shows the state isn’t focused on reducing the cost of roadway upgrades and "throwing more money at the issue will not solve our transportation problems."
"Taxpayers should be skeptical of any lawmaker who claims we need to 'invest' in our transportation without offering reforms," said Paul Craney, the group's spokesman. "Doing that would just be throwing good money after bad."
The Reason Foundation report, which is based on data provided to the federal government for 2016, ranks highways in categories that include pavement condition, congestion, deficient bridges, fatality rates and expenses for capital projects, administration and maintenance per mile.
Traffic congestion in Massachusetts causes more than 44 hours of delay annually per commuter, among the highest in the nation. Only four other states — New York, California, New Jersey and Georgia — are as congested.
Despite the poor rankings, Massachusetts has the lowest rate of fatal crashes in the country — 0.63 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles — well below the national average.
Transportation advocates say the state must come up with new revenue sources to fund road, bridge and infrastructure upgrades.
A proposed 4% tax on incomes more than $1 million would have drummed up an estimated $2 billion a year for transportation and education, but it was knocked off the November 2016 ballot by the state Supreme Judicial Court following a challenge by business groups.
Advocates have refiled the proposal with goal of putting it on the 2022 ballot.
Gov. Charlie Baker has filed a bill to authorize borrowing up to $18 billion over the next 10 years for transportation work. His proposal is being reviewed by lawmakers.
The Baker administration released a report two weeks ago suggesting the state has reached a "tipping point" on transportation needs. It recommends adding new highway lanes, working with businesses to create new commuting routes, encouraging telecommuting and pushing forward with more MBTA upgrades.
Transportation advocates want the state to pursue bolder initiatives to ease traffic-choked roadways, such as congestion pricing for commuters — an idea the Baker administration has rejected.
"We are in a transportation crisis and we need state leaders to act accordingly," Chris Dempsey, director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, said in a statement. "This is going to require going beyond 'business as usual' to embrace some ideas and innovations that other states have adopted but on which Massachusetts has lagged."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. email@example.com.