States play a significant role in the construction and maintenance of the country’s roadway system. Each state employs its own approach and objectives when planning and constructing highway infrastructure, including addressing obstacles and environments unique to that state.  A recent report by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute explores the highway construction costs for each state and more closely examines them throughout the Midwest.

Full Report:  A Comparison of Highway Construction Costs in the Midwest and Nationally

The figure below summarizes each state’s highway construction, right-of-way (ROW) acquisition, and engineering costs per lane mile.  This analysis provides an illustration of how construction costs compare between states; however, as stated above, each state encounters its own unique complications that factor into overall costs.  Therefore, it cannot be exclusively used as a definition of cost effectiveness. 


Specifically, a state’s geography, population density, and design requirements all impact construction costs.  A state with higher overall population density and more urban areas will have higher overall costs due to more stringent design standards on urban roadways, added complicated intersections such as expansive overpasses, and complex work zones during construction.  See the complete report for a more thorough comparison of construction costs to density, urban roadways, and infrastructure in each state.

In comparison to the nation, the eight Midwestern states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin) fall within the mid-to-low range of highway construction costs per lane mile (see figure below).  The Midwest’s flat landscape and moderate population density likely contribute to overall lower costs; however, seven of the eight states fall below the national average, with Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa ranking among the lowest-cost states.


Furthermore, labor factors into project costs, yet higher wages do not consistently equate to higher construction costs in the Midwest.  As shown below, road construction worker wages in the Midwest are generally higher per hour than the national average.  As an example, compared to the national average, construction workers in Wisconsin are paid higher wages per hour.  Operating engineers in Wisconsin earn 18 percent more than the national average and highway maintenance workers in the state earn 5 percent more than the national average. Construction costs per lane mile, however, are 44 percent lower in Wisconsin than the national average.  Similarly, road construction worker wages in Minnesota are 16 percent to 18 percent higher than the national average; yet construction disbursements per lane mile are 58 percent below the national average.  There is no clear evidence that higher wages lead to higher construction costs.


In conclusion, an assortment of variables factor into highway construction costs, including geography, population density, and design standards.  Consequently, it is difficult to provide an exact comparison of construction costs between states due to these factors and each state’s needs; however, this new Midwest Economic Policy Institute report provides a foundation to understand construction spending throughout the nation.

Want to read the entire report? Click here.