VicRoads inquiry shows need for change

A country roads inquiry instigated by James Purcell MP has been referred to the next Parliament due to the complexity of the issue.

Mr Purcell welcomed yesterday’s report and its recommendation that the Government refer the inquiry to the appropriate committee in the next Government for further investigation.

"While we wish the full inquiry had been completed, the depth of the issue and the underlying need for change is well documented in the committee’s recommendation to send it off to the next Parliament," said Mr Purcell.

Mr Purcell raised a motion in November 2016, asking  the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee to investigate the effectiveness of VicRoads in managing country roads; the existing funding model and its lack of effectiveness for country Victoria; the lack of consultation with regional communities and their subsequent lack of input into prioritising which roads are in dire need of repair; and the option of dismantling VicRoads and creating a specific country roads organisation and separate metropolitan roads body.

"The state of our country roads is an ongoing issue, one that I and my fellow regionally based members have constantly raised in Parliament."

Key points in the report tabled on Thursday showed that remote and regional roads receive less external Commonwealth funding than urban roads on a per kilometre basis:

  • urban arterial roads receive approximately 14 times more external funding (excluding own‑source revenue) than rural arterial roads; and
  • urban local roads receive approximately five times more external funding than rural local roads.

State, Territory and local government are left to cover the shortfalls of this funding. The report said that of the 25,000 kilometres of roads and roadsides managed by VicRoads, 19,000 kilometres  are in rural or regional areas.

"Over 75 percent of VicRoads’ road management responsibilities lie in regional Victoria and these roads are in dreadful condition. I take from this that that VicRoads isn't doing its job and something needs to change," said Mr Purcell. 

Of the councils providing submissions, five were from the south-west: Glenelg, Southern Grampians, Warrnambool, Moyne, and Colac-Otway Councils.

Broad themes outlined in the 335 submissions received included:

  • the poor quality of roads in regional areas;
  • the lack of funding for VicRoads and councils to adequately maintain regional roads;
  • the importance of meaningful consultation by VicRoads with community members, local governments, and other key stakeholders;
  • the need for recommendations made by VAGO in its road network reports to be implemented, particularly in its most recent report, Maintaining State‑Controlled Roadways, issued in June 2017. 

"The VAGO report showed that despite increases in funding in 2015, there were still increases in the proportion of "poor" and "very poor" roads in the eastern and south-west regions over a 10 year period.

"These roads are falling apart faster than VicRoads can fix them and the current repair and replacement program isn't keeping up," he said.

The inquiry also revealed that delivery of the maintenance program is devolved to regional offices, which only report to VicRoads’ head office on outputs for network areas that have been maintained.

"There is no one with a birds-eye view offering any coordination over the delivery of maintenance and repairs across the state, so how can the effectiveness of works be monitored, adjusted and improved over time?" Mr Purcell asked.

Submissions from the Southern Grampians and Glenelg Councils reflected sentiment across all councils:

"VicRoads have implemented an Alliance model in the South West Region. This model has been in place for two years now and Council’s view, based on our observations is that this model has failed our communities in the South West of Victoria.

"Council has observed poor workmanship resulting in large quantities of rework being undertaken and at times new works failing within days of construction or above the routine maintenance defect invention levels after construction," said Southern Grampians Council.

"Council has no doubt that VicRoads is underfunded. Council can only conclude from the VAGO Report 2017, this is caused by a failing of VicRoads long term asset planning and significant underfunding from past and present State Governments," the Glenelg Council submission said.

Mr Purcell said his main taking from the inquiry was that change was needed to the way regional roads were managed if the State had any hope of bringing its roads up to an acceptable standard.

"I sincerely hope the next Parliament will use this as a springboard for change. It's essential to the smooth running of our State, our regional businesses and communities, and tourism that our roads are safe and in good repair.

"I thank all who made the effort to make submissions to the Committee and encourage them to keep pushing for equality in funding and conditions across the state."