By Mariano Moszoro and Mauricio Soto
High-speed roads that can transport goods to customers in distant markets increase productivity, reduce poverty, and contribute significantly to sustainable and inclusive economic development. That’s why economists spend time trying to gauge the state of the world’s roads through surveys and the like.
IMF staff has developed a new measure of road quality in 162 countries using Google Maps to determine the average time it takes to drive between major cities that are at least 80 kilometers (50 miles) apart. As the Chart of the week shows, the fastest roads in the world are in the wealthiest economies, including the United States, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Canada. The slowest roads are in the poorest countries, another barrier to inclusive growth. An interactive version of the map can be viewed here.
Simplicity is a main feature of our score. Average speeds are easy to calculate and simple to monitor frequently. This makes it an inexpensive complement to other connectivity measures that rely on satellites or surveys. Our research shows that road quality is strongly correlated with travel times.
It is difficult to sum up the quality of the roads in a single statistic. For example, speed does not take into account road safety, the availability of other modes of transport such as rail, or congestion during peak hours or seasons (when farmers can all use the roads at the same time to get their products to market). Also, they might not fully grasp the technical challenges of building quality roads over varied and difficult terrain.
Nonetheless, this simple metric can help policy makers and planners assess their road infrastructure against peer countries and the value of future road investments. It can also be easily extended to monitor speeds on small roads which can be critical for many rural areas. This can help countries design policies to overcome road bottlenecks and improve their competitiveness by moving people and goods faster.