A nation of potholes: Australia’s major highways a ‘dangerous disgrace’ needing $1b boost

Australia’s pothole-riddled rural roads are a “dangerous disgrace”, neglected by a federal government too focused on major construction in the cities, an economic analysis has found.

Nov 13, 2023, updated Nov 13, 2023
The report says maintaining vast road networks is difficult for regional councils. (AAP photo)

The report says maintaining vast road networks is difficult for regional councils. (AAP photo)

Research released on Monday calls on the Commonwealth to spend an extra $1 billion every year to help under-resourced councils maintain local roads, which have been damaged by frequent disasters.

“You don’t need to drive too far on a rural road in Australia to encounter a pothole, soft edge, or other hazard,” the Grattan Institute’s report Potholes and Pitfalls said.

“Our local roads, especially in the bush, are a dangerous disgrace.

“They need more funding and the money needs to be better targeted, with cleaner lines of accountability.”

Rural and remote councils are in an “impossible position” looking after vast road networks, when they have fewer ratepayers and employees than metropolitan regions, the independent think tank’s report said.

It recommended the extra annual federal funding, along with $200 million to assess and upgrade roads considered priority freight routes.

“Roads are fundamental to the national economy,” the report said.

“Every time a road allows an individual to get to work it contributes to that individual’s ability to earn an income and so also to wider economic output.”

The report also said the federal government was spending more money on new construction in the cities when major projects were of less net value.

Melbourne’s West Gate Tunnel and the Inland Rail freight line, for example, were only expected to return one dollar for every dollar spent, the researchers said

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“Taxpayers would get better bang for their buck if the federal government spent an extra $1 billion on improving our local roads rather than on new mega projects in the major cities.”

The report points to an opportunity in an independent review of the federal infrastructure investment program, which has found $33 billion in budget blowouts.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine King has been warning of the review’s findings for months, saying the investment pipeline was mismanaged by the previous government.

The Grattan report said some of the estimated $120 billion funding pipeline should be redirected to local roads.

Australian Local Government Association president Linda Scott backed that proposal, saying councils were responsible for almost 680,000km of roads.

“Without urgent funding, the state of our roads will continue to decline and only get more expensive to fix,” Ms Scott said.

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