Oil-rich Texas has built more highways and bridges than any other state, but over the next two decades it will fall $170 billion short of what it needs to keep the sprawling network in good repair.
California transportation officials estimate that 60 percent of the state's roads and a quarter of its bridges need repairing or replacing, at a projected cost of $70 billion over a decade, some $52 billion more than the available funds.
Over seven years, Kansas went from spending three times as much on highway upkeep as it did on building new roads to devoting four times as much money for construction as for maintenance. Missouri, meanwhile, shifted its spending heavily toward repairs but saw its outstanding bond debt quadruple.
America's highway system, once a symbol of freedom and mobility envied the world over, is crumbling physically and financially, the potentially disastrous consequence of a politically driven road-building binge.
President Barack Obama, state transportation officials, civil engineers, road builders and business groups agree the country needs to invest trillions of dollars in its infrastructure, yet there's little consensus on how to pay it or what the most pressing needs are.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the country needs $14 billion in additional federal funds each year just to maintain highways and $50 billion more to improve them.
Federal government analysts, taxpayer advocates and transportation experts have warned for at least a decade that states were spending too much on building highways and too little on fixing them and that their maintenance costs would skyrocket if they didn't change course.
"We've engaged in a dangerous game of deferred maintenance," said Brian Taylor, a professor of urban planning and the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Five years after an interstate highway bridge collapsed in Minnesota, killing 13 people and injuring 145, the country still has a bridge repair backlog of $65 billion, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
At a time when Congress is proposing significant budget cuts and tax increases have little support, states are canceling or scaling back highway projects.
They are looking for private partners to help finance construction and are still coming up short.
A McClatchy Newspapers analysis showed that there were a lot of hands on the wheel as the system veered off course:
The oldest parts of the interstate highway system have reached the end of their life cycle, including thousands of bridges dating to the 1960s, a potential threat to public safety and commerce demonstrated by the Minnesota bridge collapse.
The federal gasoline tax no longer covers the country's annual highway spending, but few in Washington are willing to take the political risk of increasing it. That forces states to borrow more money, raise tolls or ask their residents to approve new taxes.
Lawmakers and the special interests that bankroll their campaigns still exert outsized influence on where federal highway funding goes.
The U.S. Department of Transportation long ago ceded control over most highway decision-making to the states without well-defined national transportation goals, leaving a large portion of federal money up for grabs for those with the most clout.
"Everybody likes to build things," said David Burwell, the director of the climate and energy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "But nobody likes to maintain them."
When Al Biehler became Pennsylvania's transportation secretary a decade ago, he found that the state had been spending more on expanding its highway system than it had on keeping it in good shape.
So he did the unthinkable: He put the brakes on some projects.
"Projects that we knocked off the program, some of them weren't terrible projects," he said. "I just felt we couldn't afford them."
Missouri also had been spending more on expanding its highways than it had been on keeping its existing system in good condition, according to an analysis of government reports.
However, since 2004, Missouri has steadily shifted its focus from adding highway miles to keeping up roads that are already built.
In 2004, Missouri spent about $234 million on added capacity and $140.1 million on maintenance. By 2011, the state had basically flipped that ratio, spending $112.4 million on added capacity and $208.7 million on maintenance.
Voters in Missouri overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 that directed more money to roads. The first phase of improvements was making roads smoother.
Kansas, meanwhile, has moved to spending more on added capacity.
In 2004, the state spent $62.9 million on added highway miles and $207.6 million on maintenance. That compares with 2011, when Kansas spent $164.8 million on added capacity and $41.5 million on upkeep.
Kansas passed a 10-year, $8 billion transportation program in 2010 called T-WORKS. Projects in the program are funded primarily through a 4/10-cent sales tax, with $4.2 billion going toward highway preservation projects while $1.8 billion goes to highway modernization and expansion projects.
And while Missouri has been paying greater attention to keeping existing highways drivable, it also nearly quadrupled its outstanding bonds in the last seven years. In 2004, Missouri had $861 million in outstanding bonds, according to federal data. By 2010, that amount had grown to about $3.4 billion.
In Kansas, however, highway debt has remained flat, with $2.1 billion in outstanding bonds during that same period.
Highway funding is one of the top issues for Missouri legislative leaders this year.
A recent report on Missouri's transportation needs suggested that the state invest an additional $600 million to $1 billion annually in transportation to address its critical transportation needs.
One of the most urgent projects is fixing Interstate 70, which a state highway official has warned would be a "gravel parking lot" in less than 20 years if nothing is done.
According to the National Center for Pavement Preservation, a research lab for road-building materials at the Michigan State University engineering school, every dollar spent to maintain a road in the first 15 years of its life saves $6 to $14 in maintenance costs after 20 years.
The Federal Highway Administration doesn't require states to put money into repairing roads before building new ones.
Some budget watchdogs were encouraged about the most recent federal transportation bill, which Congress approved last summer. It pushes states to develop performance standards for federal highway spending that result in the greatest improvement to roads and bridges.
It's too soon to know whether the measures will have any impact, and the legislation expires at the end of next year. Meanwhile, states face tough choices. Emil Frankel, who was assistant secretary for transportation policy under President George W. Bush and is a former Connecticut transportation commissioner, said the country needs to establish priorities.
"Thirty years ago, 'like it' might have been good enough," said Frankel, who is now a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research center in Washington. "We can't afford to do that anymore."
It's been 20 years since Congress raised the gasoline tax. The 18.4-cents-a-gallon tax has lost a third of its buying power to inflation and rising construction costs.
The tax feeds the federal Highway Trust Fund, which long has paid for a portion of highway construction and repairs in all 50 states.
The fund used to carry a surplus, but lawmakers have bailed it out since 2008 by tapping the Treasury for $50 billion.
"That can't continue indefinitely," said John Horsley, who retired in January as the executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Simply increasing the gas tax may not be the best option. Americans have been driving less since 2007, partly because of the recession and higher gas prices and partly because of a generational shift away from car ownership. Rising fuel economy in cars and trucks also has contributed to the decline in gas tax revenues.
Horsley proposed replacing the per-gallon gasoline tax with a percentage-based sales tax. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and the chairwoman of the Senate committee that drafts transportation legislation, said she would consider the idea along with other alternatives, including a carbon tax and a tax based on the number of miles people drive.
Congressional gridlock has left the states to find other sources of revenue, with mixed success.
States have taken on more debt, and some have about as much as they can support. According to Federal Highway Administration data, state road debt nearly tripled between 1995 and 2010.