The backlog of overdue maintenance on the state road network remains at similar levels to 2009, with an estimated total cost of $845 million in 2016. Between 2010 and 2015, the maintenance backlog was around $1 billion, but Main Roads expect this to fall to $845 million in 2016 and then $630 million by June 2017. Much of the expected reduction will occur from:
- instances where there is no longer a requirement for maintenance works to be done because the need has been addressed as part of a minor construction works and capital works projects. This removes the original maintenance costs from the backlog. For instance, where minor construction works address road shoulder repairs that were going to be treated and funded as part of the maintenance program.
- decreasing the level of services provided for maintenance activities such as vegetation clearance and litter collection, which contributed to a drop of over $100 million in the past year.
- In the 2009 report we found that 32% of main roads were older than the design life of 40 years. The proportion has now grown to 46%, with the average age of roads up from 33 years to 36 years. Main Roads also acknowledges that the estimated maintenance backlog does not include the full extent of road rehabilitation (rebuilding) needs. Main Roads regional offices do not comprehensively assess and report on the level of rehabilitation, as this need does not typically attract funding. Main Roads does not know the extent to which rehabilitation is underreported but estimates the gap between assessed need and actual need at approximately $100 million.
Most of the maintenance on the network is reactive, done when it becomes critical. The available budget of $227 million in 2016-17 was allocated to high priority needs, rather than balanced across lower priority needs to prevent them escalating and becoming more complex and expensive to fix. As complexity increases, so does cost resulting in less maintenance being done with the available funding. Main Roads is aware that preventative maintenance offers better value for money and prolongs the life of the network. However, it does not have a comprehensive strategy which balances the need to move to a preventative approach while still undertaking critical repairs.
Main Roads has made some progress towards a preventative approach by using additional funds to prioritise resurfacing which prevents further deterioration of the road. Between 2012 and 2016, Main Roads received additional funding of $236 million to address the maintenance backlog. The funding was used for overdue resurfacing as well as new resurfacing needs, reducing the overall backlog value by $78 million, and the average surface age by a year since 2010. Replacing the surface of a road in a timely way helps to improve the long-term performance of the road and extend the periods between major maintenance. However, Main Roads is yet to analyse the cost effectiveness of the focus on resurfacing and how this compares to other approaches.
Main Roads has improved its knowledge of the condition of the road network and the performance of its contractors. Corporate systems and tools introduced since our 2009 report provide Main Roads with information about the condition of the road asset, as well as maintenance costs and performance. In particular the Maintenance Management Information System (MMIS), implemented in 2014, brings road maintenance information into a single system and provides consistency for measuring and reviewing road condition and maintenance.
The current ISA model of contracting has improved Main Roads’ levels of control over maintenance by involving staff directly in managing maintenance. This was not the case under the previous contract model (TNC). The ISA model also gives Main Roads a greater opportunity to monitor whether works are on time and budget, though the standardised performance indicators it uses to do this took almost 3 years to introduce. Main Roads is implementing a new contract model in 2017. Improvements made to monitoring under the ISAs need to be carried forward into the new model.