Transport networks are especially critical for our society’s wellbeing and economic prosperity. They are vital links connecting us to the opportunity to work, learn and play As such, road networks must deliver the right levels of service for communities, businesses and industry – now and for the future, and it doesn’t change as we respond to COVID-19.
Governments (federal, state, territory, local) have acknowledged the need to invest in new capital transport projects – to stimulate our economic response to the current pandemic and grow our transport system’s capacity and capability.
However, it is equally important to re-invest in existing transport infrastructure assets. In Infrastructure Australia’s latest priority list, a National Road Maintenance Strategy was identified as a priority project, recognising increasing demands, growing backlogs and the historic maintenance underspend across all jurisdictions. In the National State of the Assets, Roads and Community Infrastructure Report, the Australian Local Government Association notes that roads make up around 40 per cent of their built assets, most of them built in the 1960s and 1970s. Currently 25 per cent of local road networks are in fair condition, and nine per cent are in poor/very poor condition – in dire need of renewal and investment.
According to Peter Todd, Strategic Advisor – Strategic Asset Management at WSP, “When renewing road infrastructure assets, the focus needs to be on strengthening road pavements to carry greater traffic loads, renewing ageing bridges to improve large freight vehicle access, revitalising road assets (signs, barriers and noise walls) for better travel experience, and improving road surfaces for greater safety. We also need to consider:
- Rebuilding bushfire-affected road assets
- Incorporating more recycling when renewing assets
- Impacts of climate change so our road networks are Future Ready.
“Investing in road asset renewal has some real immediate economic advantages: we can deliver projects on the ground much more quickly than capital infrastructure works. . These projects need little statutory planning or approval; they rarely need to acquire land, and design is generally straightforward. Works can also be delivered right across the country including in regional areas, spreading the stimulus impact across metropolitan and rural areas. Local truck drivers, quarries and materials suppliers, and other local subcontractors will all benefit as investments flow directly into local jobs, business and economies. ”In particular, investing in road networks will benefit many of last summer’s bushfire-affected communities and those hit by the tourism downturn from the pandemic. Peter Todd adds, “We could also invest in some extra low cost/high impact projects including:
- Renewing and strengthening bridges and structures to provide seamless freight access to ports and markets
- Upgrading road signs to support the tourism industry and local communities
- Adding a program of road seal widening to improve safety
- Adding a program of intersection upgrades to improve access and safety for people, industry, and business.
“To deliver these asset renewal and improvement projects quickly it will be imperative for delivery agencies to utilise collaborative procurement approaches. It is very important to work with industry to deliver these works across the road network. This can be best done by taking a program approach to delivery that adopts a partnership approach with industry to drive innovation and efficiencies of scale while still ensuring value for money.”
This critical period offers our state and national leaders a great opportunity to invest in important road transport assets – for long-term benefits to transport networks and for the immediate positive economic impact it will deliver to all Australian communities.