The Best & Worst States for Public Safety & Infrastructure

Best and Worst States for Public Safety and Infrastructure

Efficient transportation infrastructure ensures the smooth flow of goods and people, providing access to essential services and fostering economic growth. Conversely, inadequate infrastructure can lead to increased accidents, economic losses, and social disparities. The condition of America’s infrastructure directly impacts safety, quality of life, and economic prosperity. This report sheds light on the critical role of public safety and infrastructure in shaping our future.

Key Findings

Here are some main insights of this report:

  • South Dakota’s exceptional emergency health care ranking, low commute time, and moderate internet coverage place it in the top spot as the best state for public safety and infrastructure. 
  • Louisiana’s poor internet coverage, a high percentage of structurally deficient bridges, and a moderately long commute time put it in the lowest-ranked position as the worst state for public safety and infrastructure. 
  • Over the past decade, the fire death rate in the U.S. has increased by 18%. 
  • Approximately 24 million housing units in the U.S. have significant lead-based paint hazards.

The Importance of Safe, Reliable Transport Infrastructure

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), over 370,000 people die annually in roadway accidents. This alarming statistic underscores the urgent need for effective measures to enhance road safety. A safe and reliable transportation infrastructure is vital for the economic health, safety, and quality of life in any society. The challenges for providing this infrastructure in the U.S. are steep. 

Acknowledged in 2021 by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. is in dire need of:

  • Repairs and rebuilding of highways and roads;
  • Bridge repair, replacement, and rehabilitation;
  • Dedicated internet infrastructure; 
  • Reduction of crashes and fatalities on roadways for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians;
  • Expansion of public transportation and passenger and freight rail;
  • Port and waterway repair.

The Infrastructure Law is intended to provide much-needed funding to support infrastructure projects with a $550 billion infusion, but is it enough? The American Society of Civil Engineers reported a funding gap of $2.6 trillion that bears a tremendous consequence on the economy predicting a 10 trillion loss in gross domestic product by 2039. 

Economic and Social Implications

The aging infrastructure in the U.S. is compounded by the expanding population. With much of the major infrastructure built in the ‘60s and the population nearly doubling, road, bridge, and traffic conditions represent a safety risk and economic drain. 

A 2018 study showed traffic congestion delays cost the economy $87 billion in a single year. While the current infrastructure is resulting in a negative economic impact, an investment in infrastructure can have the reverse effect of $1.50 in economic activity for every dollar invested according to the World Bank

Beyond physical infrastructure, our electronic roadways via internet infrastructure represent a weakness and an area in need of improvement as well. Rural and low-income communities are the most impacted with 14 million people lacking broadband access. A lack of internet connectivity can impact employment, education, and healthcare. Conversely, broadband access can have a positive impact. One study, focused on rural counties in Tennessee found that broadband internet access reduced unemployment compared to counties without broadband access by 26 percentage points. 

Environmental Considerations

Environmental sustainability plays a pivotal role in transportation infrastructure. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation sector is responsible for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions. Adopting sustainable transportation practices can greatly diminish the environmental footprint of travel. 

Key strategies include promoting public transit and investing in innovative green technologies like electric vehicles and transit systems powered by renewable energy. 

Inadequately planned roads and highways can fragment natural habitats, and interrupt wildlife migration paths. To counter these negative effects, transportation planners can implement solutions such as wildlife crossings, green bridges, and habitat restoration projects. 

Prompt Emergency Response Times

Swift emergency response is paramount for public safety, with each minute often holding the key to saving lives. Infrastructure plays a crucial role in response times. Poor road conditions, as underscored in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s road condition data, can significantly hinder emergency response, particularly in rural areas. Rural residents travel more than twice the distance for healthcare (17.8 miles) compared to their urban counterparts (8.1 miles). They often do so on poorly maintained roads, increasing the time it takes to receive healthcare. 
Moreover, emergency medical services take twice as long to arrive in rural areas as they do in cities. About 10% of rural residents wait for nearly half an hour for emergency medical assistance. According to the journal JAMA Surgery, “Longer EMS response times have been associated with worse outcomes in trauma patients.” Therefore, JAMA asserts that bystanders effectively trained in first aid are essential for patients’ survival.

Challenges persist, including understaffing and funding shortages within emergency services, as seen in the FEMA’s State Fire Loss & Fire Department Profiles. Over the past decade, the fire death rate in the U.S. has seen an 18% increase, highlighting the growing challenges faced by emergency services. Disparities in building code enforcement also hinder rapid response efforts. Commute times, reflected in state data, further complicate the swift mobilization of emergency personnel. Additionally, the nature of emergencies can vary widely, from medical incidents to natural disasters, requiring a versatile and well-equipped response framework.

Improving emergency response times requires a multifaceted approach. First and foremost, investment in infrastructure is crucial. The integration of technology, such as GPS tracking and real-time traffic data, can provide emergency services with valuable information to optimize response routes and avoid congestion.

The consequences for delayed response times are dire, especially in medical emergencies. The U.S. fire death rates by state underscore the urgency of timely interventions. Between 2015 and 2019, the average fire death rate across the U.S. was 10 per 1 million people, but in some states, it soared as high as 23.7 per million. Improving emergency response times requires a comprehensive approach that addresses infrastructure, staffing, funding, and public education. 

Public Buildings: Safety and Building Collapses

The safety of public buildings is critical due to the health risks associated with asbestos, black mold, and lead-based materials. The CDC links asbestos, a fire-resistant material, to severe respiratory illnesses like mesothelioma and asbestosis. Black mold can also cause respiratory issues and aggravate asthma and allergies. Lead in water pipes and paint, often found in older buildings, poses significant risks. About 24 million housing units across the United States are afflicted with notable risks posed by lead-based paint. Lead can cause cognitive impairments and developmental delays, especially in children.

Building collapses may result from poor maintenance, substandard materials, and non-compliance with building codes. The Surfside condominium collapse in Florida highlighted the dangers of neglected repairs and insufficient oversight. To prevent such disasters, FEMA emphasizes the importance of adopting and updating stringent building codes. Regular inspections and adherence to these codes are crucial to ensure structural integrity and occupant safety. However, FEMA reports that only 32% of jurisdictions in hazard-prone areas have adopted building codes to ensure hazard-resistant building infrastructure.

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is another concern, where poor indoor air quality due to inadequate ventilation and contaminants like mold lead to symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and respiratory problems. By prioritizing safety and sustainability, public buildings can serve as safe, healthy, and environmentally responsible spaces for communities.

Below, you’ll find lists of the best and worst states for public safety, determined by a weighted ranking system focusing on commute times, emergency response, roadway infrastructure, and average internet coverage.

Public Buildings: Safety and Building Collapses

The top states excelled in efficient transportation systems, well-maintained infrastructure, and reliable internet connectivity, showcasing a commitment to resident safety and infrastructure investment.

1. South Dakota

Despite a relatively high percentage of structurally deficient bridges, South Dakota's exceptional emergency health care ranking, low commute time, and moderate internet coverage place it in the top spot. South Dakota's investments in emergency management and disaster response infrastructure have significantly enhanced public safety.

2. Vermont

Vermont ranks second thanks to its excellent emergency healthcare system, very low percentage of structurally deficient bridges, and average commute time, despite needing improvement in internet coverage. Vermont's strict building codes and regular infrastructure inspections contribute to its high safety standards. 

3. Indiana

Indiana takes the third spot, supported by its strong emergency healthcare ranking, low percentage of structurally deficient bridges, and decent internet coverage, despite its slightly longer commute time. This state has prioritized funding for road maintenance and bridge repair, and Indiana's infrastructure ranked number one in CNBC’s Top States for Business Report in 2016 and 2019. 

4. North Dakota

Despite its slightly lower emergency health care ranking, North Dakota's low percentage of structurally deficient bridges, short commute time, and moderate internet coverage contribute to its fourth-place position. North Dakota's focus on improving rural healthcare infrastructure plays a crucial role in enhancing public safety.

5. Maine

Despite being number one in emergency health care, Maine's high percentage of structurally deficient bridges, longer commute time, and lower internet coverage places it in fifth place. Maine’s ongoing efforts to modernize its healthcare infrastructure are noteworthy.

6. Wyoming

Wyoming's decent emergency health care ranking, moderate percentage of structurally deficient bridges, relatively short commute time, and average internet coverage warrant its sixth-place ranking. Wyoming has been investing in rural health care to improve facilities and services in rural areas while enhancing access to quality care.

7. Colorado

Colorado secures the seventh spot due to its adequate emergency health care ranking, low percentage of structurally deficient bridges, longer commute time, and above-average internet coverage. Recent legislative measures in Colorado aim to significantly improve infrastructure and transportation systems across the state by providing $1.7 billion in funding.

8. Montana

Montana's average emergency health care ranking, moderate percentage of structurally deficient bridges, short commute time, and below-average internet coverage position it in eighth place. Recent infrastructure bills in Montana have provided significant funding for the state's road and bridge projects, enhancing the overall infrastructure quality and contributing to public safety?.

9. Arkansas

Despite its relatively high emergency health care ranking and low percentage of structurally deficient bridges, Arkansas' longer commute time and poor internet coverage place it in ninth position. Arkansas recently received federal grants to improve its transportation infrastructure, focusing on road safety and connectivity, which is expected to enhance overall public safety. 

10. Connecticut

Connecticut ranks 10th, supported by its strong emergency healthcare ranking, low percentage of structurally deficient bridges, and excellent internet coverage. However, its longer average commute time compared to other states places it at the bottom of the top 10 list. Recent investments through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are set to provide funding to continue enhancing Connecticut's transportation infrastructure.

The 10 Worst States for Public Safety

These lower-ranking states face challenges such as longer commute times, inadequate infrastructure, and unreliable internet coverage, highlighting areas for improvement to enhance public safety and overall quality of life.

1. Maryland

Maryland's poor emergency health care ranking and the longest commute time significantly overshadow its excellent internet coverage. Despite having a low percentage of structurally deficient bridges, the state's overall performance is heavily impacted by its health care and commute issues. The rise in medical mistakes in Maryland due to hospital staffing shortages highlights the critical need for long-term planning.

2. California

California's very poor emergency health care ranking and long commute time are major detractors despite its moderate internet coverage. The 6% of structurally deficient bridges also contributes to the state's low ranking. California's legislative delays and insufficient infrastructure investments exacerbate the state's transportation needs. 

3. Florida

Florida's low emergency health care ranking and lengthy commutes outweigh its decent bridge and internet statistics. The state has a low percentage of structurally deficient bridges but still struggles with health care and commute efficiency. Policy changes and budget cuts in Florida have exacerbated the state's infrastructure challenges.

4. West Virginia

West Virginia's highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges and worst internet coverage offset its relatively good emergency health care. The 26.3-minute average commute time adds to the state's challenges. The state's failure to develop a request for proposals for its electric vehicle infrastructure plan highlights broader issues in transportation planning and funding.

5. Washington

Washington's poor emergency health care ranking and long commute times are somewhat balanced by better internet coverage. The state's 5% of structurally deficient bridges indicate moderate infrastructure issues. Washington's legislative failures, such as the inability to pass key infrastructure and health care bills, have stalled essential improvements.

6. Michigan

Michigan's poor emergency health care ranking and a high percentage of structurally deficient bridges outweigh its moderate internet coverage and commute time. The state faces significant challenges in healthcare and infrastructure. Efforts to secure federal funding for infrastructure safety projects in Michigan highlight the urgent need for modernization.

7. Ohio

Ohio's low internet coverage and poor emergency health care ranking are somewhat balanced by reasonable commute times and a moderate percentage of deficient bridges. The state's infrastructure and health care need improvements to enhance overall quality. Ohio's limited investment in infrastructure has hindered progress.

8. New York

New York's good internet coverage is undermined by poor emergency health care, the longest commute time, and a high percentage of structurally deficient bridges. Despite its digital connectivity, the state's health care and transportation systems require significant attention. The myriad problems with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's aging infrastructure could cripple New York City if upgrades are not implemented soon.

9. Massachusetts

Massachusetts has very poor internet coverage and emergency health care, coupled with a high percentage of structurally deficient bridges and a long commute time. The state's overall performance is hampered by these critical issues. Financial issues at Steward Health Care could spell catastrophe for the state's healthcare system, further straining infrastructure.

10. Louisiana

Louisiana's higher emergency health care ranking is offset by poor internet coverage, a high percentage of structurally deficient bridges, and a moderately long commute time. The state's infrastructure and digital connectivity present significant challenges. Additionally, frequent natural disasters and Louisiana's legislative delays strain infrastructure.

Methodology

The ranking for the best and worst states provides a comprehensive view of public safety across the states by considering commute times — and by extension emergency response, roadway infrastructure, and average internet coverage. Each state's scores and rankings were derived from the linked data sources and weighted ranking system.

Selection of Factors

1. Emergency Response Times (Average Commute Times)

  • Importance: Commute times are a proxy for the speed and efficiency of emergency response services. Shorter commute times generally indicate less traffic congestion, facilitating quicker responses by emergency services.
  • Data Source: Average commute times are typically sourced from transportation surveys and census data.
  • Weight: This factor is given the highest weight due to the critical importance of timely emergency responses in ensuring public safety.

2. Roadway Infrastructure (Structurally Deficient Bridges)

  • Importance: The condition of roadway infrastructure, particularly bridges, is a direct measure of safety risks. High percentages of structurally deficient bridges increase the risk of accidents and delays, negatively impacting public safety.
  • Data Source: The percentage of structurally deficient bridges is obtained from infrastructure reports and government databases.
  • Weight: This factor is moderately weighted because poor infrastructure can lead to significant safety hazards and impact emergency response times.

3. Average Internet Coverage

  • Importance: Reliable internet coverage is essential for public safety. It enables quick access to emergency information, facilitates communication with emergency services, and supports the infrastructure of smart cities.
  • Data Source: Average internet speed data is collected from internet service providers and technology research firms.
  • Weight: This factor is given a lower weight but is still significant, reflecting its role in modern emergency communication and information dissemination.

Data Collection and Normalization

To ensure comparability across states, data is collected from reputable sources. The collected data is normalized to a common scale, typically from 0 to 100. Normalization involves adjusting values based on the range and distribution of the data, allowing for a fair comparison across states.

Composite Scoring Formula

Each state's normalized scores for the three factors are combined using a weighted sum formula. This formula ensures that each factor contributes proportionally to the overall score based on its assigned weight. The weights reflect the relative importance of each factor in determining overall public safety.

Ranking Process

States are ranked based on their composite scores, with higher scores indicating better public safety performance. The ranking process involves:

  • Calculating normalized scores: For each factor, raw data is converted to normalized scores. For example, a state with the shortest average commute time would receive the highest normalized score for the commute time factor.
  • Applying weights: Each normalized score is multiplied by its respective weight.
  • Summing weighted scores: The weighted scores for all factors are summed to produce the composite score for each state.
  • Ranking states: States are then ordered from highest to lowest composite score, with the top-ranking states being the best in public safety and the lowest-ranking states being the worst.

Interpretation of Results

The resulting rankings provide a comprehensive view of public safety across states. States with high composite scores typically have efficient emergency response times, well-maintained infrastructure, and good internet coverage, contributing to overall safety. Conversely, states with low composite scores may struggle with longer emergency response times, poor infrastructure, and inadequate internet coverage, indicating areas needing improvement.

By carefully selecting, normalizing, and weighing the relevant factors, the ranking system provides a valuable tool for assessing and comparing public safety across states, helping identify strengths and areas for improvement.