Funding is good but we want more, councils say

Victorian councils back changes to Black Spot program, but want Roads to Recovery funding restrictions relaxed

By Brad Gardner

Victorian councils are pushing for funding grants under the Roads to Recovery program to be relaxed, claiming current arrangements are not good enough.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), which is responsible for representing the State’s local governments, want depreciation costs for plant and equipment used by council construction teams to be included in funding grants.

Although welcoming $350 million over five years under Roads to Recovery, MAV Chief Executive Rob Spence says lifting the funding restriction will promote consistency because contracted and in-house construction teams will be bound by the same arrangements.

"Under current arrangements, these costs are excluded," Spence says.

Spence made the comments while responding to a Senate inquiry into the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill.

The MAV pledged in-principle support for the Bill, which proposes expanding the Black Spot program beyond local roads to the national network, changing AusLink to the Nation Building Program and permitting extra funding allocations under Roads to Recovery at the federal transport minister’s discretion.

The MAV says federal government investment in road infrastructure is vital because councils are responsible for about 80 percent of the Victoria’s road network.

The government-owned Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) has also backed the Bill, but with a recommendation to allocate funding to research.

ARRB Gerard Waldron says some countries assign a portion of construction funds to research "to ensure that knowledge keeps up with the passage of time and unfolding demands on the transport system".

The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee will report its findings on June 15.

The Coalition wants scrapped the provision authorising Black Spot funding to be extended beyond local roads to the national network, saying there are already measures to bankroll projects on national roads.

"We should not be taking away money from projects for local streets and roads to spend it on the national highway network," opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss says.

But Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese says extending the scheme is necessary to improve road safety, claiming local roads will not suffer because Black Spot funding has doubled.

"The leader of the Nationals knows that a number of dangerous black spots are indeed on the national network, particularly in areas where the national network goes through regional centres," Albanese says.

The Government has promised funding for projects on national routes such as the Sturt, Hume, Bruce, Pacific and Newell highways, but needs the Bill passed to begin construction.

Unless the Opposition alters its stance, the Government will need the support of the Greens, Family First’s Steve Fielding and Independent Nick Xenophon to pass the Bill.

Under Roads to Recovery, local governments apply for a share of federal funding for road construction and maintenance projects.

The Black Spot program is designed to reduce accidents by funding upgrades to traffic signals and roundabouts on roads with a high crash rate.

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