Reporting the condition of Victoria's roads

In 2008 the Victorian Auditor General reported that the State’s regional arterial road network was under stress, that maintenance expenditure had failed to keep pace with inflation, and that the condition and performance of the regional road infrastructure had deteriorated over recent years (VAGO 2008).

RACV recently engaged an independent expert to examine the Auditor General’s report, State budget papers, VicRoads annual reports and VicRoads supplied road condition data, to determine the condition of the network and whether it is better or worse condition than when reviewed by the Victorian Auditor General. Community campaigns certainly suggest that, at least in some areas, the State’s roads are in a terrible condition.

Nothing in the data suggests that the issues identified by the Auditor General have been addressed by successive State Governments.

How are road conditions reported?

The condition of the network is reported in State Budget papers each May. Only one measure is reported. From 2007/08 to 2010/11 it was the proportion of travel on ‘smooth roads’.

  2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11
Metropolitan % 91 91 91 91
Regional % 93 93 93 93

Portion of 'smooth' roads in urban and rural areas, 2007/08 to 2010/11

From 2011/12, the measure was changed. The change was explained in the VicRoads Annual Report as “the percentage of the road network exhibiting cracked and/or ‘distressed’ pavement (a potential for potholes).” Exactly how distressed pavement is calculated is not provided. We believe it is based upon data about cracking and rutting – two types of pavement failure.

  2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Metropolitan % 8.0 7.6 7.4 7.5 8.1
Regional % 7.5 7.4 8.0 7.5 7.4

Portion of distressed roads in urban and rural areas, 2011/12 to 2015/16

The 2016-17 State Budget Papers note ‘this performance measure is being discontinued and the new measure is to be: proportion of the road pavement not distressed.’ Could this be a return to the reporting measure that applied up to 2010/11?

We think that the two measures in the table may be the inverse of each other and the tables can be combined for data up to 2015/16. Using the original measure of ‘smoothness’, the network has apparently been in a constant average condition for nine financial years.

  2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Metropolitan % 91 91 91 91 92 92.4 92.6 92.5 91.9
Regional % 93 93 93 93 92.5 92.6 92. 92.5 92.6

Portion of "smooth" roads in urban and rural areas, 007/08 to 2010/16, using data from State Budget Papers

Do you think that roads in your community have been in a similar condition for nine years?

The numbers in the tables are averages for the metropolitan and regional areas. There’s no indication of the best and worst, and we think the choice of ‘key performance indicator’ (KPI) is hiding the problem. For example, long lengths of necessary highway duplications and the opening of new roads like Peninsula Link involve building new road surfaces. Data from new and expanded roads is probably balancing out the fact that some highways are in extremely poor condition. The network is also growing in size, and the relatively constant percentage hides that the number of kilometres in a distressed condition is longer each year.

How many kilometres of highway are in the worst condition?

In 2015/16, 92.6% of the network was ‘smooth’ and 7.4% ‘distressed’. With the regional highway network being 19,630 kilometres long, that is equivalent to 1,452 kilometres of road in a distressed condition. That is the same distance as driving from Melbourne to Mildura 2.6 times.

Whilst the Auditor General’s report acknowledged VicRoads had prioritized its maintenance activities to address the most pressing problems, and up to 2008 this had limited the impact on road users, of note, the report emphasized;

…without further action, the condition and performance of the arterial road infrastructure will deteriorate to a point where the impacts will become increasingly evident to the travelling public.

The report recommends that VicRoads develops and publishes an enhanced suite of indicators to better represent the condition of road infrastructure. This will help the Victorian Government better understand the long-term implications of current maintenance resourcing decisions.

What needs to be done?

RACV does not believe that the sole indicator being reported addresses the recommendations of the Auditor General, and conveys to Victorians the condition of the State’s road network. With Corangamite Shire reporting to Infrastructure Victoria that 18% of state highways in their community are ‘distressed’, and Glenelg Shire releasing videos showing how bad the State’s highways are (see below), it is clear that the averages reported in budget papers and annual reports are hiding the real story.

Without transparency, there can be no debate about what the community expects and what it is prepared to pay, for good roads. Detailed condition data should be mapped on and regional and Council results made public. RACV doesn’t think that Victorian’s deserve roads like those shown in Glenelg Shire’s videos.

Find out more

Check out our other posts about road maintenance in Victoria.

Written by Dave Jones, Roads and Traffic Manager
December 05, 2016