$1 billion in extra funding is just the first step to fixing local roads

Our local roads are in a state of dangerous disrepair, especially in the bush, and they’re only going to get worse without an extra $1 billion in funding each year, according to a new Grattan Institute report.

Potholes and pitfalls: how to fix local roads shows that a gradual erosion of federal funding over the past decade has been terrible for local roads.

A $1 billion funding injection would mean an extra 25 per cent on top of what councils are currently spending on road maintenance. Many councils do not have a realistic way of raising the money they need to keep their roads in good condition, especially rural and remote councils. A billion dollars is only about 10 per cent of what the federal government spent on roads last year.

It will take more than money alone to fix our roads, though: the funding needs to be better targeted, with cleaner lines of accountability from the funding source to the end point of better, safer roads.

The report recommends that the federal government stop favouring densely populated states with its funding arrangements, and cut back the share of the funding pool that goes to the major-city councils that are already self-sufficient.

Federal and state governments should also help under-resourced councils manage their road networks. A Grattan Institute survey of councils conducted for this report reveals that a quarter of councils don’t even know exactly what roads and bridges they manage; for remote councils, it’s almost half.

To help councils better manage their roads, the federal government should establish a national road hierarchy, minimum service standards, and basic data specifications for councils to follow.

‘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 building new megaprojects in the major cities,’ says report lead author and Grattan Institute Transport and Cities Program Director Marion Terrill.

‘What’s needed to put the road network on a better path is more funding better targeted at where it is needed most, and reforms to ensure that councils have the tools and time to fix the potholes and give their communities the roads they need.’

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