In 2009 the Auditor General tabled a report titled Maintaining the State Road Network. The audit examined whether Main Roads Western Australia’s (Main Roads) management of road maintenance had been efficient and effective.
The report concluded that the condition of the network had deteriorated since Main Roads contracted out its maintenance function, with the average age of the road increasing and inadequate levels of planned maintenance. It also found that better information was needed to inform Main Roads’ decisions about where, when and what type of maintenance was needed to ensure cost effectiveness and reduce the significant backlog of overdue maintenance.
This follow-on audit provides an assessment of whether the condition of the state road network has improved and whether reasonable steps have been taken to address the problems identified in the first report. It also includes an assessment of whether Main Roads has addressed the 10 recommendations of the 2009 report (Appendix 1).
Road construction and maintenance in Western Australia is the responsibility of either the state or local governments. The state government is responsible for roads classified as highways or main roads – cumulatively referred to as the state road network. Main Roads plans, builds and maintains the state road network on behalf of the state government (Figure 1).
Since our 2009 audit Main Roads has replaced its contract model for maintenance, moving from Term Network Contracts (TNCs) to Integrated Service Arrangements (ISAs).
Under the ISA model, private sector partners (Integrated Service Providers – ‘contractors’) are brought in to work with Main Roads to deliver road operational asset management, network operations and maintenance services delivery. Contractors and Main Roads regional staff work closely to plan and deliver maintenance, with oversight by Main Roads head office in Perth.
Main Roads introduced the ISA model between 2010 and 2011 to address some of the shortcomings of the TNC model, which were identified in our 2009 report. A key focus was regaining influence and control over planning and management of the road asset, which diminished during the TNC period.
Main Roads intends to change its contract model again in 2017. The design of the new model aims to increase the in-house managed component of maintenance.
Funding for the maintenance of the state road network was valued at approximately $227 million in 2016-17. Works regarded as maintenance include road resurfacing, drainage and line-marking. By comparison, the building of a new road is as a capital works project. Some projects can have both maintenance and capital elements.
The context for maintaining the state road network changes over time:
- Since our last report the number of registered vehicles has increased by 18.5 per cent, which contributes to road wear and tear.
- The road network is growing. Since 2009, the size of the state road network has increased around 6% from 17,800 kilometres to 18,846 kilometres. Its value has grown by 31% over this period to more than $46 billion.
Other factors also impact the budget and delivery timeframes for maintenance. Projects such as capital upgrades can influence maintenance positively. For example, if a road with an identified resurfacing need is instead rebuilt, maintenance (resurfacing) is no longer required and the overall quality and lifespan of the asset improves. Projects can also impact maintenance negatively. For instance, road diversions needed to enable capital upgrades or maintenance on a specific section of road can cause increased wear and tear on other sections of road.