NATROAD: Roads fit for purpose

Road maintenance must be given a greater priority

NATROAD: Roads fit for purpose
Road maintenance is key


Recently NatRoad, together with the Western Roads Federation and the Northern Territory Road Transport Association, called on the Federal Government to direct more spending to road maintenance. The spending would stimulate the economy and make roads safer and better fit for purpose.

Over recent months there have been many changes that have affected members: drought, bushfires, followed by flooding in some areas, and now the impact of the coronavirus. To say that conditions are challenging is an understatement. We are confronted with a perfect storm of successive disasters and in times of crisis governments must act decisively.

We strongly support government acting to stimulate the economy to offset some of the effects of these events. We have advocated the expenditure of monies on road maintenance because it’s often neglected in the infrastructure spend and will help rural and regional Australia.

Appropriate road infrastructure, including suitable rest areas for heavy vehicles, is a critical component of enhancing heavy vehicle safety outcomes, particularly in rural and regional areas. Better construction of infrastructure, but especially maintenance, is a major part of heavy vehicle safety improvement. Unfortunately, our roads are becoming increasingly degraded as the road maintenance backlog across all jurisdictions increases. This jeopardises road safety and impacts the road transport industry’s productivity.

This is an area where Infrastructure Australia has recently updated its Infrastructure Priority List. This list is important because it stresses a stronger focus on regional and remote roads, for example, several new projects listed in Queensland and Western Australia contain a new focus on road maintenance.

The 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit identified an underspend on historical maintenance, short budgetary and funding cycles, a lack of data and incentives, and inadequate reporting as factors contributing to maintenance backlogs. It has indicated that its maintenance initiative requires action from local and state/territory governments to identify, categorise and prioritise the necessary responses in their areas of responsibility. This is work that the Federal Government should co-ordinate and then roll out a program under the auspices of all Australian transport ministers.

High fatalities

We urge for a renewed focus on road maintenance by all levels of government for three reasons.

First, as an appropriate stimulus message that will assist rural and regional roads which have a much higher fatality rate than other parts of the network. For example, in NSW over the period 2013-17, the regional and local roads network accounted for 68.9 percent of all fatalities (light and heavy vehicles) and 77.6 percent of all injuries, costing the NSW economy $3.9 billion.

Secondly, this expenditure is a way of advancing safety by making roads easier to navigate, reducing road hazards.

Thirdly, it is a means to assist bush fire affected communities to better recover: it shows them that Australians haven’t forgotten them in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) panic.

As one of our members said when giving us feedback regarding the closure of vital routes due to the recent bushfires: "The current penchant for risk-aversion road closures is massively counterproductive and demonstrates the fragility of our infrastructure due to poor maintenance practices." That must change. 

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