Potholes and pitfalls: How to fix local roads

by Marion Terrill, Natasha Bradshaw, Dominic Jones

12.11.2023 report


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.

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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. This funding would provide an extra 25 per cent on top of what councils are currently spending on road maintenance. 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.

Targeting road funding to where it’s needed most would put the road network back on track, and allow councils to give communities the roads they need.