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EDITORIAL: Roads critical in bounce-back efforts

It might seem curiously premature, but regional-roads maintenance will quickly emerge as a pressing concern when we consider how to best bounce back from the COVID-19 threat.

And the challenge this issue presents, which many would consider bland and boring, will take considerable innovation and outside-the-box thinking to overcome.

As it stands, kilometre upon kilometre of roadwork, especially in regional areas, easily soaks up the lion’s share of annual local government infrastructure budgets.

This necessary maintenance is of such a large scale it would be impossible without state and-or federal government money regularly flowing into the regions.

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But with a massive amount of money pouring from respective state and federal purses to lessen COVID-19’s socio-economic blow, there is a strong possibility that reserves of roads-program money will shrink dramatically.

So what happens to the roads if there is no money to keep them up to scratch? 

Unless we come up with something clever, from engineering, construction, planning and funding perspectives, they are at risk of seriously deteriorating. And the road back, excuse the pun, will be long.

Primary production is going to have an important role in Victoria’s economic resurrection. That means the need to transport considerable amounts of raw material as efficiently as possible will be greater than ever.

Regional and rural roads as well as rail are huge parts of the equation in responding to this important industrial landscape. Roads can’t simply be ‘adequate’ in this scenario.

Getting this roads equation right will demand much more than simply pleading for government money. 

In fact it might well represent a cornerstone in a complete overhaul in the way we approach road building and maintenance.

There are two fundamental realities: Apart from highways and primary arterial routes, we need sealed municipal roads. And we most likely won’t be able to afford to keep fixing them without serious regional socio-economic implications.

We need roads to be much more resilient in coping with heavy transport and all the vagaries of seasonal climate conditions and reactive soils.

Dangerous potholes and serious road-shoulder issues appearing after seasonal rain or ground movement must become a thing of the past.

That means seriously ramping up the engineering technology occurring in the background of the roads industry if it hasn’t already.

Get the breakthrough we obviously need with road-construction technology and we could then examine more ways to equip regions to better look after their own roads.

This of course is a tough call. Surely, some might ask, if there was a way to make roads more affordable, resilient and less costly to build and maintain, a place like Australia would have already come up with the best formula?

Perhaps, but annual local government infrastructure costs in Victoria’s regions fall well short of telling this story.

The other big aspect in all of this – where does rail transport now sit in the big picture?

The entire May 6, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!