A record amount of roads and highways are in a distressed condition in Victoria. There’s been much research into the condition of Victoria’s road network, particularly in rural areas, and RACV is committed to advocating for wide-scale improvements.

An independent expert review commissioned by RACV in 2016 found that the network itself is grossly underfunded. In 2008, a Victorian Auditor General’s report highlighted many of the deficiencies in funding and it forecast continuing problems. RACV’s review found that on average, seven per cent of the regional road network across Victoria is in a ‘distressed’ condition, as per the Department of Transport’s (DoT) definition. This equates to 1500km of the state’s highways requiring safety warnings and speed reductions, highlighting the prevalence of the issue.

Risk to safety and industry

Rural businesses are also fed up with the state of country roads in Victoria, with large stretches of arterial roads still rated as poor or distressed.

In the worst cases, that means tourists have been known to drive into a deep pothole and have a wheel ripped off their cars. But in the day-to-day, truck operators in the western agricultural, dairy and forestry industries are forced into expensive maintenance outlays when their trucks are still relatively new.

The Auditor-General’s report in 2017 backed these concerns, concluding that the increasing proportion of the state road network is a growing risk to public safety.

It found that not enough funding is allocated to sustain the road network, and included the DoT modelling, indicating that with the current funding levels, 50 per cent of the network would be in very poor condition within seven years.

Independent assessment of Victoria’s regional roads

The independent assessment considered ten years of road condition data about roughness, rutting, surface texture and cracking, which was supplied by the DoT. Data for half the roads in the network is collected each year, which means the complete network is collected every second year. The data is also only collected for one direction of travel on each road.

For road users, the most relevant data is on roughness and rutting.

Proportion of distressed roads in urban and rural areas

Proportion of distressed roads in urban and rural areas

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

2015-16

Metropolitan %

7.6

7.4

7.5

8.1

Regional %

7.4

8.0

7.5

7.4

Within some areas like Corangamite Shire, the Shire has found that 18% of the State maintained roads are distressed. RACV estimates that with some areas being better and some worse, it is reasonable to assume 15% of the network in the South-West region that extends from Geelong to Portland and the South Australian border is in a distressed condition.

What RACV discovered

Geoff Webb inspecting cracked and rutted surface of Princes Highway

The 2016 assessment found that the actual expenditure on capital works to rehabilitate and maintain the state’s road network peaked in 2009/10 and has declined by over 40 per cent since then. In the same period the value of the state’s road assets has grown by about 10 per cent – likely from projects like Peninsula Link, regional highway duplications and other road upgrades.

Most importantly, RACV found that there has been a significant decline in spending on road maintenance and rehabilitation, despite a larger network.

 

The independent assessment also considered how much of the network is being resurfaced each year. Resurfacing is important because it delivers benefits to the network like:

  • Maintaining waterproofing: Water is a major problem in road maintenance because wet road materials cannot support the weight of cars and trucks. That is why so much effort should go into keeping road surfaces waterproof by applying new surfaces, sealing cracks, filling potholes and maintaining drains so that water flows away from the road.
  • Road safety: New surfaces typically have better skid resistance, reducing the likelihood of vehicles skidding or sliding off roads on bends, and enabling vehicles to stop in a shorter distance in an emergency.
  • Fixing the shape of the road: Some ways of resurfacing roads enable deformities in the surface to be corrected. For example, to stop water pooling on the road surface.

In 2013, RACV’s Pothole Patrol campaign drew state-wide attention to the problem, resulting in the once-off allocation of $170 million of emergency funding from the State Government. However, time has show that it wasn’t sufficient as a long-term fix.


For the 2015/16 period, the distressed 7.4 per cent of the 19,630 kilometre network in regional Victoria was equivalent to 1,452 kilometres of road. That is the same distance as driving from Melbourne to Mildura 2.6 times.


To delve deeper, the expert assessment considered ten years of the DoT’s data. The condition data records cracking, surface texture, roughness and rutting. When roughness data for all roads in regional Victoria is considered, outside of the ten largest regional cities, we find that the network is gradually declining in condition.


The roughness of roads in every country region has been progressively worsening since 2006/07 (higher scores are worse).
 

Change in roughness of Victoria's regional highways


Using rutting data gives quite different results. Rutting is the long depression in the wheel path of vehicles along the road. According to this measure, the south-west of Victoria is significantly worse than the rest of the State, but state-wide the trend has ‘flattened’ or decreased a little in most regions.

Rutting of Victoria's highways in each VicRoads region 2014/15


Rutted roads can hold water in the wheel path, creating a safety issue as water cannot drain from the road surface. This is a greater safety and maintenance concern in wet climates – like that in South-West Victoria.

Corangamite Shire has reported that VicRoads data for their area shows that 18 per cent of the highways within their community are distressed. While we are unsure what it is in each Council area, we can assume that the average across the South-West is 15 per cent, suggesting about 600 kilometres of roads, just in the South-West, are in what the State Government calls a distressed condition.

Are South-West Victorian roads the worst?

Roughness is the ‘bumpiness’ of a trip along a road, which considers the overall shape of the road. Nine percent of roads in South-West Victoria were found to be in poor or very-poor condition, and over 11 per cent in a fair condition.

When the data is broken down by the type of road, a different story emerges. The analysis considered A, B and C roads. For example, the A1 Princes Highway is an ‘A’ road, the B140 Hamilton Highway is a ‘B’ road and C192 Portland-Nelson Road is a ‘C’ Road.

The analysis found that the lower the class of road, the more likely the road will be in poor or very poor condition.

Compared to the previous analysis, it showed that in the South-West, rutting was more of a problem than roughness. This can be a serious safety issue because water can pond in the ruts along the road, affecting the braking performance of vehicles.

The independent analysis found that roads in the South-West were the worst in the State. RACV has calculated that the South-West has about 600 kilometres of distressed roads that will cost about $486 million to repair. That means that over one term of government, RACV estimates $120 million a year would be needed to fix distressed roads in South-West Victoria alone.

 

RACV’s list of top 10 regional highways in need of attention

  • Henty Highway, Portland - maintenance
  • Princes Highway East, Warragul to Traralgon - maintenance 
  • Princes Highway East, Bairnsdale to NSW border - maintenance and absence of safety features
  • Hopkins Highway, Warrnambool to Mortlake - maintenance 
  • Hamilton Highway - maintenance
  • Calder Highway - Bendigo to Mildura - absence of safety features
  • Goulburn Valley Highway - Shepparton to NSW border - absence of safety features and poor crash record  
  • Western Freeway - Ararat to Horsham - absence of safety features for volume and type of traffic
  • Princes Highway West - Warrnambool to SA border - absence of safety features for volume and type of traffic
  • South Gippsland Highway – maintenance

What RACV wants

RACV believes that ongoing road funding maintenance is woefully inadequate. We estimate that the strengthening of 1,500 kilometres of distressed roads across regional Victoria would cost $1.2 billion in 2016.

To strengthen and resurface regional roads costs about $80-$90 per square metre. With roads typically being about nine metres wide, including narrow sealed shoulders, 600 kilometres of distressed roads will cost about $486 million to repair.

If there are about 1,500 kilometres of distressed roads across regional Victoria, as we estimated above, then $1.2 billion is needed to strengthen and resurface them. That will be $304 million a year, for four years – and it won’t slow down the deterioration of other roads.

Such large-scale works must also incorporate extra safety improvements, to provide minimum 3-star roads. That should be possible because large scale works should enable the work to be undertaken at a lower cost per square metre of road to be fixed.

Rural Victoria’s views on the condition of regional roads

Before a parliamentary inquiry into the state of Victoria’s rural roads, RACV commissioned Nature Research to ascertain the views of  750 rural Victorians on the condition of rural roads.

69% are dissatisfied with road surface conditions.

64% believe rural roads are not adequately funded.

55% say poor surfaces and potholes are the top reason roads are more dangerous to drive on.

29% say more frequent road maintenance would have the most impact on safety.

17% believe duplication would have the most impact on safety.

14% say sealed shoulders would have the most impact on safety.

12% say overtaking lanes would have the most impact on safety.

Source: Nature Research for RACV. 750 rural Victorians were surveyed on the condition of country roads in 2017.