Following a recent truck rollover that killed hundreds of sheep on a notorious WA country road, Western Roads Federation has come out firing on the state of Australia’s regional road network – and the funding inequity that exists between urban and regional routes.
This particular incident occurred on January 11, when a road train was travelling down Kulin-Lake Grace Road, around 330 kilometres south-east of Perth. The rear trailer flipped after its tyres hit a rut in the road.
There were over 420 sheep in the trailer, many of which died at the scene, while numerous others had to be euthanised.
Though the road is sealed, it’s a narrow stretch used by many trucks – particularly during harvest.
And, alarmingly, incidents like this one aren’t isolated. “It’s a general problem right across the country,” said Western Roads Federation CEO Cam Dumesny.
“Some regional roads are just a series of potholes connected by the odd bit of heritage listed bitumen. We need to get a better focus back on the regions.”
According to Dumesny, the problem is two-fold. He says that while city roads keep getting better, it only serves to highlight their contrast with skinny regional roads with thin seals.
Secondly, he adds, there’s no national focus on addressing our regional freight routes.
“When you look right across the country, regional roads in various parts – particularly for freight – are quite patchy in terms of their quality. The federal government came out and increased regional road funding from $500 million to $1 billion over a given period of time.
“But there are over 537 local governments in Australia, so it works out to around $2-3 million for each regional local government. A rest area, with toilets, is going to cost about $3 million dollars, so it’s really not a lot – and that’s the problem.”
Dumesny also points to Victoria, where a regional newspaper reported that 40 times the state’s annual road maintenance budget will be spent on just 15 kilometres of freeway in Melbourne.
“And that’s the issue right across the nation,” he said. “There’s a fundamental inequity going on between spending in the city and the regions.
“In WA, there are approximately 146,000 kilometres of road – 30 per cent are sealed and 70 per cent are unsealed. Then you look at how we fund those roads – 88 per cent of roads are maintained by local governments, and 12 per cent are under the state government, through Main Roads.
“The federal government collects fuel excise and road user charges but they don’t own any roads in WA. The state government collects registration and other charges for getting vehicles on the roads, but it only controls 12 per cent of the roads. There’s a fundamental inequity between who is owning and maintaining the roads and who’s actually getting the funding.
“As a nation, we’ve just become obsessed with metropolitan infrastructure projects at the detriment of the regional areas.
“Secondly, regional freight routes may run through multiple shires. Sometimes it’s hard to justify to the rate payers in a middle shire, why they should be paying for a road.
“As an example, let’s say you have an abattoir located in one shire, the processing facility is in another shire, and you have to travel via a middle shire to get there on a regional road. Then the employment benefit is in the start and destination shires. But the middle shire has no benefit, yet its rate payers have to pay for the increased road maintenance.”
For the transport industry, Dumesny believes truck drivers don’t get enough acknowledgment for the work they do and the danger poor roads pose. “It’s a lot harder to correct a truck than it is a car!” he said.
“At the moment, we’re just getting enough funding to maintain the current bad level of roads, we’re not getting enough to improve them.”