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Regional Op Ed - Local infrastructure key to connecting communities

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Locals know what locals need. That’s a catch cry that certainly rings true when it comes to roads and footpaths. Communities, through their elected council, have insights and local knowledge, and are best placed to understand their own transport

The Municipal Association of Victoria has repeatedly called for all three levels of government to work more cohesively together, particularly in allowing councils a seat at the decision-making table. This is scarcely more important than when funding transport infrastructure.

Both state and federally funding models are currently unsustainably low. Both levels place too much emphasis on building big, shovel-ready projects that don’t solve local issues. If they stopped to listen to local communities, they would realise much more is needed to create local links and – just as importantly – maintain existing networks, whether they’re roads, footpaths, or bike paths.

Maintenance is especially a challenge in rural and regional communities where council budgets are often tighter and the road networks are vast. Regional Victorians deserve safer roads and for too long, funding from other tiers of government has been insufficient.

We all deserve access to safe travel choices, which is why the MAV advocates for a separation of vulnerable road users from cars, buses, and trucks. Our regional centres are growing rapidly, so we need to prioritise urgent safety upgrades to ensure that everyone can get home safely.

A key to succeeding in this is ensuring freight vehicles can stay off local roads by having properly maintained routes. Maintaining country roads for large freight vehicles is a costly exercise and not one councils can afford on their own.

Across Victoria, 87 per cent of the road network is controlled and managed by councils.  For rural councils roads make up between 70 and 90 per cent of the value of the assets the council is required to maintain. Rural councils routinely spend in excess of 30 per cent of their total budgets on road maintenance and upgrades.

Significant portions of these roads are how the food and fibre Victorian's all need get to market and to processing.

Upgrading and making roads accessible to B-doubles and other high productivity freight vehicles as well as being safe for all road users is creating significant financial pressure on individual Local Governments under the current rate capping regime.

With many businesses still recovering after the pandemic, we want to see deliveries get to businesses, shops, and homes on time, while ensuring both truck drivers and other road users are safe.

Federal grant programs have, over time been significant sources of funds to support road infrastructure, along with limited State programs. Unfortunately, councils continue to fall behind the annual renewal task for roads with most councils managing a renewal rate of around 70 per cent each year due to financial constraints.

As these roads belong to all Victorian's the time is right for the State Government to accept that as a consequence of rate capping, it is required to provide the funding shortfall to this road infrastructure, in order to keep Victorians safe and these local economies moving ahead.

But the State is not alone. As part of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) federal campaign, the MAV is calling for the Federal Government to provide:

  • A $500 million per year permanent extension of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program;
  • A new $300 million per year Strategic Local Roads Program to address first and last kilometre and support an efficient freight network; and
  • An increase in Roads to Recovery Funding to $800 million per year and Black Spot Funding to $200 million per year.
  • An increase of FInancial Assistance Grants to 1 per cent of Commonwealth taxation revenue.

These asks will give councils more certainty to plan for longer term solutions, provide clarity for projects, and help ongoing improvements.

This is particularly the case for the Financial Assistance Grants as these are untied. They provide flexibility for individual councils to target the works they need, whether it’s new builds, ongoing maintenance, or specific upgrades.

In providing this critical funding and allowing councils independence over decision making, all three levels of government can ensure all road users can get home safely.