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Inquiry into Rural Road Safety and Infrastructure


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Historical Development
Characteristics of the Road Network

Overview of Victoria's Arterial Road Infrastructure Strategies

Local Road Infrastructure Strategies

Chapter 2 - Rural Road Infrastructure and Management Strategies

Historical Development

Victoria's country road networks were established more than a century ago. Since that time the means of moving people and goods has changed considerably. The gradual sealing of the arterial road network, primarily after World War II, and the commencement of a National Highway System in the mid-1970s contributed to the aggregation of local and later State-based economies into a single national economy.1 Many roads now no longer perform the function for which they were constructed.

Characteristics of the Road Network

Road Lengths

Table 2.1 Victoria's Road Lengths by Category




Declared Arterial Roads


Highways and Freeways

Tourist Roads

Forest Roads

Main Roads

Local Roads

National Highways Roads of National Importance

State Highways



(155,000 km)








Country Vic
(132,000 km)








Mg't Resp'y

State Government

Local Government

Source: VicRoads submission, Table 2, p. 5.


Table 2.2 Estimated Road Lengths in Kilometres, Victoria, 1998

  Road Classification


Arterial Roads (Declared)

Local Roads 

Freeways Highways Main Roads Forest & Tourist Roads Total Arterial Roads Sealed Unsealed
Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo 60 362 597 14 1,033 3,754 2,500 7,200
Other Cities 127 1,301 1,561 167 3,156 7,402


Other Shires 345 4,465 8,310 1,684




Total Rural 532 6,129 10,468 1,865 18,992 36,723


Melbourne 381 488 2,236 141 3,245 16,818 3,800 23,900




2,006 22,238 53,541 79,800 155,600


1. Arterial road lengths rounded to the nearest kilometre. 
2. ‘Total Rural’ added by Committee 

Source: VicRoads correspondence, 20 August 2001.

In the case of local roads the lengths are provided for both sealed roads, that is, those roads that have a bitumen or concrete surface, and unsealed roads.

Road Attributes and Condition

Arterial Roads

Of Victoria's 19,000km country arterial road network, only approximately 105 kilometres, or about 0.5 per cent, is unsealed.2In a submission to the Inquiry VicRoads provided information on the lengths of various widths of sealed arterial roads, their roughness and traffic volumes. In interpreting the information it should be noted that single lane sealed roads usually have a 3.7m wide sealed surface. Two lane highways now usually have a sealed surface of either 6.6m or 7.0m, so an arterial road with a sealed surface of less than 6.2m can be considered to be relatively narrow.3There are approximately 300 km of arterial roads with narrow sealed width of 3.7m or less and 20 km of those narrow sections have very rough surfaces. However, these narrow and rough sections have low traffic volumes (less than 250 vehicles per day). Only 9 km of these narrow and rough sections carry more than 25 trucks per day.

The total length of arterial roads with seal widths above 3.7m but less than 6.2m is 2235 km, of which only some 20 km have very rough surfaces. One-third of these roads carry less than 500 vehicles per day and one fifth carry more than 50 trucks per day.4

VicRoads' summation is that:

... most country arterial roads offer adequate surfaces with only a very small proportion of country arterial travel on roads that are narrow, or very rough, or both narrow and very rough.5

Local Roads

The Committee was not able to obtain sufficient data to provide a comparative picture of road width and roughness on local roads. Only a few municipalities provided the Committee with any quantitative data on their local road networks. However from Table 2.2 it can be calculated that one third of the length of the 113,000 km rural local road network is sealed.


The country road network carries more than two-thirds of all road freight moved in Victoria.6 It also provides access to employment, goods and services for the 28 per cent of Victorians who live in country areas, and is being increasingly used for recreational travel.7Information about travel on the Victorian road network is obtained from national questionnaire-based travel surveys conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and from travel estimates based on traffic counts published by the National Road Transport Commission (NRTC). On the basis of these data, VicRoads estimates road travel in Victoria for 1999 as follows:


Table 2.3 Estimated Vehicle Travel in Victoria for 1999

Source: VicRoads submission, Table 5, p.12.

In summary, country travel represents approximately 40% of total road travel in Victoria, with more than 70% of this travel being on country arterial roads.

As only 0.5% of the length of rural arterial road is unsealed almost all country arterial travel is on sealed roads. Data from the NRTC in the mid-1990s suggest that over 80% of the total travel on country local roads is on sealed roads.8 However, whether this is on wide or narrow roads or on smooth or rough pavements is unknown.

ABS travel surveys suggest that total travel in Victoria has been increasing at about 1.3% per annum in recent years, with travel in country Victoria increasing by about 1.1% per annum. However, growth in travel is not even across the country road network; some roads are experiencing high growth while others have declining traffic.9The travel surveys also show that tonne-kilometres of freight moved are increasing at a much faster rate than truck kilometres of travel, indicating average truck loads are increasing quite significantly. Much of this growth is occurring in the larger six axle articulated and medium combination vehicles, commonly known as B-Doubles.10


In contrast to the relative lack of statistical information about roads there is a reasonable amount of published information for bridges. Victoria's Bridge Strategy, published in 1995, provides information on existing bridges, on material, age, load capacity and condition, though not specifically for bridges on country roads.11 VicRoads informed the Committee that there are 2,085 bridges and 1,600 major culverts on rural arterial roads.12Statistics on the material type, age, general condition, average annual maintenance cost and estimated current replacement cost of bridges on local roads were included in the VicRoads submission, but again the numbers for country local roads were not separately provided.13

Lack of Available Information

The last time a comprehensive quantitative picture of the road characteristics and conditions in Victoria was assembled was for June 1981 as part of the nationwide road study published by the then National Association of Australian State Road Authorities (NAASRA) in 1984.14 The investigation of rural and urban arterial roads in that study was quite extensive, but even that assessment of local roads was limited to an extrapolation from a very basic set of data assembled from a sample of municipalities.15While there have been major advances since then in information gathering techniques, such as automated data logging machines and laser measuring devices, published road quantity and quality information appears to have regressed.

Recent VicRoads annual reports provide a five year statistical summary of a number of performance measures, but not in sufficient detail to show how various parts of the country road network are performing, or whether the situation is improving or deteriorating.16

Local road attributes, their state and rate of change, can only be gauged by examining broad annual statistics.17 There is very limited information about the amount of vehicle travel on the local road network.

The Committee considers there is a need for better information on the quality of roads and bridges and the amount of travel on them.

The Committee found that it was difficult to obtain information on rural road and bridge attributes, as the more detailed statistics are usually only available for Victoria as a whole.

The Committee considers that the lack of knowledge of the current Victorian rural road assets and conditions, and the rate at which they are improving or deteriorating, represents an impediment to good road asset management.

Systems are needed to accurately record road condition data across the entire rural road network. VicRoads and municipalities should be required to gather and report the results in a standard format at regular intervals, for example every three years.


1. That accurate data on the current condition and rate of change of rural road and bridge networks, particularly for local roads, be regularly collected and published in a common format every three years.


Overview of Victoria's Arterial Road Infrastructure Strategies

Victoria has a number of strategies that are supposed to guide the development and maintenance of Victoria's arterial road infrastructure. They are:

· Victoria's Rural Arterial Road Network Strategy

· The associated Highway Corridor strategies

· A Stitch in Time road maintenance strategy

· National Roads in Victoria

· Victoria's Bridges.18Rural Arterial Road Network Strategy (December 1996)

This strategy provides the framework for managing Victoria's rural Freeways, State Highways, Main Roads and Tourists roads. It is designed to provide Victoria with a rural arterial road system that is relevant to user needs and is affordable. The strategy was originally announced under the title Linking Victoria.19 It contains seven aspects:

1. Development of a (functional) road network that is easy for the motorist to use

2. Improvement of access between regions

3. Provision of additional capacity on major roads

4. Making rural travel safer

5. Reducing freight costs

6. Improving road facilities for tourists

7. Protecting and enhancing the road environment.

Further details of the seven elements are given in Appendix C.

The function and standards of rural arterial roads are defined by the principles shown in Table 2.4.


Table 2.4 Functions and Standards of Rural Arterial Roads

Function of arterial roads

M roads

(Duplicated motorways) provide the primary road links that sustain economic and regional development. They connect Melbourne and other capital cities and major provincial centres, and they link major centres of production and manufacturing with Victoria's export terminals.

A roads

Serve the same role as 'M' roads but carry less traffic. These roads will be built with single carriageways.

B roads

Provide the primary link between major regions not served by 'A' roads, and highly significant tourism regions. They have strategic significance for Victoria.

C roads

Provide the more important links between other centres of population, and between these centres and the primary transport network.

Standards of arterial roads

M roads

Will provide a consistent high standard of driving conditions with divided carriageways, four traffic lanes, sealed shoulders and with delineation and linemarking that is easily visible in all weather conditions.

A roads

Will provide a similar consistently high standard of driving conditions on a single carriageway. A program of shoulder sealing and overtaking lane construction will be carried out, initially on sections with daily traffic volumes of more than 2000 vehicles and strategic freight routes.

B roads

Will have sealed pavements wide enough for 2 traffic lanes, with good centreline and edge linemarking, shoulders and a high standard of guidepost delineation. Additional overtaking lanes to be provided on higher volume `B' roads to improve safety & capacity.

C roads

Will generally be two lane sealed roads with shoulders. Standards will be determined on the basis of cost-effectiveness, depending on traffic and terrain, accident records, load restrictions and frequent flooding.

Source: VicRoads submission, Table 20, p. 67.

The minimum technical performance standards for rural arterial roads are defined in detail in Appendix D.

The original Strategy document contained a map showing the principal routes and their associated route numbers. Later Statewide Route Numbering Scheme drivers' guide maps provide more detail for the public.20

Highway Corridor Strategies

VicRoads is preparing highway corridor strategies for all major highway routes in Victoria. The function of each corridor and the appropriate performance standards have been set by Victoria's Rural Arterial Road Network Strategy. The individual highway corridor strategies provide a greater level of detail.

The purpose of the highway corridor strategies is to establish a 10 to 15 year action plan required to protect land for future transport options and achieve the required land access controls by:

· Estimating future travel demand;

· Determining needs and priorities for significant improvements including road safety; and

· Identifying the planning activities.

The corridor strategies indicate the role of the route, the current conditions, and identify the works required to bring each highway up to the required performance standards. Priorities are established for actions in each corridor to provide a management plan for the route.

The corridor strategies are prepared in consultation with key community stakeholders such as local municipalities, transport operators, tourist agencies and operators, trader associations, the Victorian Farmers Federation, the Victoria Police, Heritage Victoria, RACV, etc.

The following Highway Corridor Strategies have been released:

· Goulburn Valley Highway (Route M39/A39) - July 1993

· Calder Highway (Route M79/A79) - October 1995

· Princes Highway East (Route M1/A1 and B620) - May 1997

· Northern Highway (Route B75) - January 1998

· Sunraysia Highway (Route B220) - October 1998

· South Gippsland Highway (Route M420/A440) - February 1999

· Bass Highway (Route M420/B460) and Phillip Island Road (Route A420) - July 1999; and

· Western Highway (Route M8/A8) - December 1999.21

National Roads in Victoria Strategy

This document is prepared annually and is the submission for Federal road funds under the Australian Land Transport Development (ALTD) legislation.

The latest version (2001-02 to 2004-05) proposes the following rural routes as new Roads of National Importance:

· Princes Highway (East of Melbourne) from Pakenham to New South Wales border; and

· Princes Highway (West) from Geelong to South Australian border.

The strategy also proposes a five-year forward program, which includes proposals for duplication of sections of the Princes Highway from Traralgon to Sale and Geelong to Colac. 22Road Maintenance Strategy (July 1993)

A Stitch in Time is Victoria's arterial road maintenance strategy, developed to ensure that each road maintenance dollar is spent as efficiently as possible. The goals of the strategy are:

· To ensure that road conditions meet user needs for safety;

· To improve the condition of busy freight roads where the saving in vehicle operating costs is greater than the maintenance treatment costs; and

· To achieve these conditions by cost-effective treatments which minimise long-term maintenance costs, particularly by focussing on timely prevention rather than cure.23

Victoria's Bridges Strategy (July 1995)

The principal objectives of Victoria's Bridges strategy are to:

· Ensure that Victoria's bridge stock is managed in a way that promotes safety and efficiency;

· Ensure that road transport needs (such as vehicle load capacity and dimensions) are balanced with the cost of bridge maintenance, strengthening and replacement;

· Provide a performance-based framework for identifying bridge maintenance and replacement needs;

· Establish forward programs to address these needs; and

· Establish an implementation plan.

The strategy assists VicRoads and local government in the management of structures on the arterial road system. 24

Effectiveness of Arterial Road Strategies

The Committee was concerned that the strategies sometimes appeared to be just rhetoric and that some highway corridor strategies were not being implemented as published. For example, the Goulburn Valley Highway (Route M39/A39) strategy of July 1993 states that the construction priorities for the duplication between the Hume Freeway and Shepparton were to proceed north from the Hume near Seymour and south from Shepparton.25 While the Hume to Nagambie section has been completed in accordance with the strategy, work has now commenced on a project about midway between Nagambie and Shepparton.26 This is not in accordance with the priorities established in the published strategy.

The Committee heard many concerns about the inadequacy of the arterial road infrastructure that raised doubts about the appropriateness of some aspects of the strategies, or how adequately the strategies were being implemented. These issues are discussed in more detail in later chapters.

The Committee was not alone in being concerned about the lack of public information on how well the strategies were being implemented. The RACV had similar concerns in relation to the extent to which bridgework was being funded in accordance with Victoria's Bridges strategy:

RACV has been unable to ascertain if these targets have been met and believes that these figures should be more transparent.27One of that organisation's recommendations was that:

Better and more transparent benchmarking of bridge and culvert improvements is necessary to ensure targets are being met.28The Committee agrees with that viewpoint, not just in relation to bridges and culverts, but to the whole spectrum of activities encompassed by the arterial road strategies.

Local Road Infrastructure Strategies

A small number of municipalities informed the Committee of their use of asset management systems.29 These forecast the likely future condition of road and bridge assets with various types of treatments and maintenance practices. Together with a road hierarchy, such asset management systems provide a quantitative basis for the development of local road infrastructure strategies.


1. That accurate data on the current condition and rate of change of rural road and bridge networks, particularly for local roads, be regularly collected and published in a common format every three years.


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