| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Californians idle in the nation's worst traffic jams on interstates surrounding major metropolitan areas but they are far from alone -- 52 percent of these urban stretches of highways are congested, according to a new study released on Thursday.
Drivers in four lucky states enjoyed zero congestion: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
But one Midwestern state, Minnesota, and two East Coast states nearly matched California's sorry showing.
Some 83.33 percent of California's urban interstates are overcrowded, followed by Minnesota at 77.78 percent and New Jersey at 73.35 percent, according to the 16th annual survey by The Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonpartisan group.
Manhattan popularized the term "gridlock" but traffic jams on New York's urban interstates were only mediocre, ranking 37th at 53.39 percent, according to the libertarian-idea promoting group that compared volume-to-capacity ratios.
Drivers in some states whose booming economies are magnets for new residents spent much more time car-sitting without moving than New Yorkers. Florida ranked 40th at 59.44 percent. And Texas, whose $50 billion road privatization dwarfs all of its peers, was 41st at 59.67 percent, the study said.
And for the eighth year in a row, New Jersey had the nation's worst overall road system, according to the group.
"Gridlock isn't going away," said David Hartgen, the lead author and a professor at the University of North Carolina.
To reverse this trend, the 50 states -- which spent almost $99 billion on roads in 2005 -- must prioritize their dollars on traffic-busting projects, added the Charlotte-based expert.
That might be a bit of a challenge for New Jersey, whose Democratic Gov. John Corzine might partly privatize its toll roads. New Jersey's administrative costs were the nation's highest at $68,352 per state-controlled mile, the study said.
Massachusetts was 49th at $60,807; next was California, whose overhead ate up $50,614. New York ranked 43rd -- but its $18,687 tab was less than one-third of neighboring New Jersey.
Florida ranked 42nd at $16,109; Texas was much leaner, spending just $3,147 which put it in 9th place.
North Dakota had the least expensive bureaucrats, spending only $1,786, followed closely by Arkansas, which ranked second at $1,805, and Missouri which was third at $1,989.
New Jersey's total road budget -- $2.36 million per state-controlled mile -- was also more than double that of the next biggest spender, which was Massachusetts at $893,236.
Florida was 48th at $570,191, just above New York, which ranked 47th with a budget of $552,807.
California was 43rd in total spending at $336,954. Texas spent just less than third of that, ranking 26th at $106,221.
South Carolina spent the least -- $31,262. West Virginia was second at $41,839; next came North Carolina at $44,654.
Though states got 13 percent more federal transportation aid in 2005 than in 2004, they may have focused on potholes.
"They put the money right to work on the road surface," Hartgen said by telephone, noting the "pavement condition" of urban and rural roads improved. But fatalities rose a bit and little headway was made in speeding urban interstate trips.
"They put a lot more money into the system but haven't really turned the corner on congestion," Hartgen said.
Though often driver-maddening, traffic jams can actually cut deaths by slowing speeds. "Most of the states with very low accident rates also have very high congestion," said Hartgen.
Massachusetts did best on the death scale, with only 0.797 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles. Connecticut came second at 0.865, followed by Vermont at 0.946.
New Jersey was 5th with 1.013, followed by New York at 1.039. California took 19th place with 1.315 fatalities.
Montana was the deadliest, with 2.256 fatalities. South Dakota was 49th at 2.215; South Carolina was 48th at 2.211.