A SNAPSHOT of 13,000km of roads in rural Australia has shown 26 per cent are predicted to be impassable after 20mm of rain and big stretches well beyond their “useful life”.
The findings, which would be no surprise to many in rural and regional areas, are contained in a new report released this week by Infrastructure Australia, known as the National Road Asset Reporting Pilot.
It says the nation’s 800,000km, $150 billion stock of roads is not subjected to national condition assessment, unlike other economic infrastructure such as energy and water, where there is asset condition examination and standards of performance to guide funding choices.
It found the entire system of road funding comes down to governments “throwing several billion dollars of taxpayer money at the road network each year and hoping that the results will be good”.
To address the situation, the report set out to test the benefits of Infrastructure Australia's proposed solutions to problem.
They include the development of useful national standards and the creation of a national, independent body which would collate regular reports on the condition of all roads across Australia, and identify areas of greatest concern to help target funding.
It worked with a group of local governments in NSW and Queensland to produce reports for every road in those areas, and after less than three months, working on a voluntary, unfunded basis, seven local governments produced compliant road asset condition reports.
The councils included Narrabri, Southern Downs, Goodiwindi, Balonne, Gwydir and Moree.
Infrastructure Coordinator Michael Deegan said the condition of over 2200 local roads was reported, all to international standards, comprising over 13,000km of road, or 1.5 per cent of Australia’s total road network.
The results showed of the 13,000km of roads assessed, only 24.3pc of the network was sealed, and just over 20pc of sealed surface roads were deemed "past useful life".
“The pilot has proven that with access to accurate asset reports, rigorous business cases can be produced for all road funding proposals, everywhere,” Mr Deegan said in the report.
“Nationwide asset reporting would mean that any road proposal would be capable of displaying more rigorous bottom line project net present values, internal rates of return and benefit cost ratios.
“This is a breakthrough in thinking about road funding proposals and how we could spend money smarter on our road networks, with a better chance of receiving greater benefits.
“Doing these things would almost certainly reduce the perceived politicisation and underfunding of roads overall and offer a more efficient use of public funds expended, as well as opening greater opportunities for reliable private investments in the network."
In a statement responding to the report’s release, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) said it confirms what the NFF has long said - that in order for Australian farmers to remain competitive, rural transport infrastructure, including roads, must be up to scratch.
It says the report reaffirms the need to develop mechanisms to attract private investment in rural roads, providing a much needed boost for limited public funds.
NFF president Brent Finlay said the report reiterates a lack of public investment in rural roads, limiting the efficiency of agricultural freight flows.
“Farmers do their best to maximise efficiency on farm, and after the food and fibre leaves the farm gate, much of this value can be lost to inefficiencies in the transport system,” he said.
“We need to harness the opportunity for private sector investment, and invest in building better quality roads in rural Australia.
“Less money lost by inefficient and run down rural infrastructure means more money in the pockets of Australian farmers, but also more money for Australia through competitive exports.”
The NFF says it has welcomed the federal government’s commitments to undertake an infrastructure audit, and develop a priority investment pipeline.
“As a key pillar of Australia’s economy – we will be expecting agriculture to be prioritised on the federal government’s national infrastructure audit, and key food and fibre projects identified in the investment pipeline,” Mr Finlay said.
“To continue exporting $38 billion of high quality food and fibre to the world, it’s critical that we have adequate local and regional infrastructure and the measures in place that promote private investment to complement the government commitments.”
For a full copy of the report click here.