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    Yarriambiack mayor Kylie Zanker.

Roads challenges for rural councils

A Yarriambiack leader has warned rural and regional councils are struggling to maintain and improve roads, with an increase in costs requiring further funding.   

Yarriambiack Shire Council mayor Kylie Zanker said smaller municipalities faced additional challenges to maintaining roads, with the agriculture industry’s reliance on certain routes for transport demanding additional relief. 

The call comes after a Grattan Institute report, Potholes and pitfalls: how to fix local roads, recommended an increase in federal funding for councils to construct and maintain transport infrastructure. 

The report specifies an additional $600 million each year in financial assistance grants and $400 million each year in Roads to Recovery support, would improve the situation. 

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The Australian Local Government Association has also called for financial assistance grants to be restored to at least one percent of Commonwealth taxation revenue and Roads to Recovery funding increased to $800 million a year.

Cr Zanker said increases in road construction and maintenance costs were a concern should funding not keep up in the future. 

She said the road network had seen an injection of funds in recent years, most recently due to a flood event in October 2022. 

“We are currently meeting the level of service required for our sealed network, but if funding ceases the standard and levels of service will decrease rapidly,” she said. 

“To bridge the infrastructure gap between our needs and funding available, the council invested $6.836 million in renewal works during the 2022-23 year. This was funded predominately from grants.

“This year, we delivered $8.931 million road and associated infrastructure projects across the shire.

“Our challenges include a lack of available quarries and gravel pits within our shire, and neighbouring shires that contribute to increases in costs associated with cartage and road building. 

“Cost of materials and labour has dramatically increased and has put significant pressure on every aspect of council’s operations.” 

Limited ability

Cr Zanker said rural councils such as Yarriambiack faced additional challenges in maintaining local roads, including their large geographic size and relatively small ratepayer base. 

“Yarriambiack maintains a total of 4821 kilometres of roads, which includes more than 850 kilometres in sealed roads and 1250 kilometres of gravel roads,” she said.

“This equates to more than 1.3km of road per shire resident.

“As a small rural shire, we have limited ability to increase our own revenue, and are therefore heavily reliant on grants from federal and state governments.

“Untied federal funding is not going to the local government areas that need it most. This type of funding is vital for the ongoing maintenance of our road network to ensure they are fit-for-purpose and safe.”

Cr Zanker said the shire also had a number of freight routes, which were needed for the agriculture industry. 

“Agriculture is our largest industry, contributing 37 percent of total output and our largest employing industry, with 28 percent of total jobs,” she said. 

“Council’s designated heavy vehicle routes are vital for the local, regional and national economy. 

“These routes require extra funding for upgrades to meet the required level of standard.

“Similarly, the gravel network is an ongoing issue to meet levels of service for farm gate to market vehicle movements, as the evolution of agriculture has seen increased machinery movement over greater distances, having a significant impact on all roads within the network.” 

Cr Zanker said road funding alone would not guarantee the council could effectively manage transport routes.

“We require support, staff training, improved data specifics and technology to implement our programs,” she said.

“We are invested in improving our data capture and reporting methods and systems, however this takes time, resources and funds.”

The entire November 29, 2023 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire November 29, 2023 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!