To seal or not to seal. That is the question Narrandera Shire Council pondered at its Ordinary Meeting on Tuesday in regards to roads in the district.
Council Manager of Works Krishna Shrestha gave a presentation titled “Whole of Life Seal Project”, which outlined research findings aimed at guiding Council policy on which roads are surfaced with bitumen.
While it seems everyone in the bush complains about the presence of unsealed roads and the poor quality of sealed roads Mr Shrestha’s analysis showed just how challenging the economics of road sealing are for regional councils.
For a start, in some areas in the shire, the revenue received from ratepayers is less than half the cost of road maintenance and upgrades. This is why Council constantly faces an uphill battle to seal all the roads the community wants sealed.
Council also has a tough job convincing state and federal governments to fund its revenue shortfall. Mr Shrestha said 83 per cent of the rural road network in Australia serves just 10 per cent of the population.
Many roads in this shire are used by less than 60 vehicles per day, whereas on some Sydney roads, daily traffic counts can exceed 70,000. This is perhaps a reason why governments seem more eager to spend their money on big city infrastructure.
According to Mr Shrestha’s research, the key for Narrandera Shire Council is to identify which roads experience the largest traffic volumes and prioritise them for sealing and upgrades with the most appropriate type of seal.
He said seals are lasting longer than originally thought, so there may be economic benefits in sealing more roads. Data is currently being obtained on traffic counts.
Mayor Neville Kschenka observed vehicles travelling on country roads tend to contribute more to the economy than those in Sydney (because they’re often carrying freight for export, for example), and that this argument needed to be considered by policymakers.
Similarly, Cr Narelle Payne said that the type of vehicles that use a road needs to be considered alongside simple automobile counts.
Roads used more by trucks carrying grain and produce could have more of a case for sealing and resealing than roads used mostly by smaller cars.
Mr Shrestha agreed with both these statements and said that research will continue to inform the most cost-effective ways of sealing as many roads as possible.
Council welcomed the presentation, noting the importance of further work in this area. Roads, and funding for roads, has been a contentious issue ever since a 2017 NRMA report revealed major funding shortfalls across Riverina councils.
The report, Funding Local Roads, highlighted a funding “backlog” of $1.98 million in Narrandera Shire Council.