WA Auditor General again critiques road maintenance regime

Told little has changed in seven years, Main Roads WA promises to see through audit recommendations

WA Auditor General again critiques road maintenance regime
Colin Murphy's six recommendations have been accepted.


Western Australia’s Auditor General, Colin Murphy, has confirmed road maintenance concerns buried in the state’s Budget papers – that crucial freight infrastructure is reaching or past its use-by date.

But the Maintaining the State Road Network – Follow-on Audit report, which revisits a 2009 report, concludes that Main Roads WA upkeep has languished and preventive maintenance all but ignored, worsening the backlog and making repairs more expensive.

"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," the audit document states.

"The average age and the proportion of the road network past its design life has increased, with 46% of the network now over 40 years old compared with 32% in our 2009 report.

"Overall, Main Roads’ approach to maintenance is still reactive, doing maintenance as it becomes critical.

"Targeted early intervention to prevent roads from needing more costly and extensive maintenance is limited.

"As the complexity and cost of maintenance increases, less can be done within the available funding, and so the backlog increases."

It isn’t all brickbats for the WA roads department, though it nearly is.

"Recent additional investment in resurfacing some parts of the network to prevent further deterioration has helped Main Roads to curb growth in the maintenance backlog," the report continues.

"Main Roads has also improved its collection of information about the cost and delivery of road maintenance activities, which allows it to monitor contractor performance more effectively.

"However, Main Roads has not yet used this better information to shift its strategy from reactive to preventative maintenance.

"While funding levels and the need to conduct critical repairs are key considerations, without a change in strategy, there is a significant risk that road condition will deteriorate and the maintenance backlog will rise."

The Auditor General’s Office has six main recommendations, five to be realised by December and the sixth by next July:

Formalise guidance to regions on assessing and prioritising maintenance needs

Establish a consistent approach to calculating backlog to allow comparison over time

Apply lessons learned from the Integrated Service Arrangements when developing and managing the new maintenance contracts

Standardise the monitoring and evaluation of safety related maintenance tasks identified during crash investigations

Identify the maintenance knowledge and skills needed by Main Roads and plan for how current and future gaps will be addressed

Implement a comprehensive strategy to address maintenance backlog. The strategy should focus on minimising the whole-of-life costs of the network.

In its official response, Main Roads accepted the recommendations and timeframes.

In comments WA roads minister roads minister Dean Nalder echoed, the department noted that age should not be a lone determining factor on all maintenance decisions.

"Pavement age alone does not reflect the pavement performance and many roads are performing well beyond their nominal 40 year design life," it says.

"The actual life of the pavement will be impacted by various factors including quality of the naturally occurring pavement material, geological and climatic conditions, traffic volumes and traffic composition (particularly heavy vehicles) and timely pavement repairs and resurfacing.

"New technologies in asphalt are currently being used in other States and internationally that achieve cost savings, better pavement performance and shorter construction timeframes.

"The Minister for Transport approved in December 2015 a four-year agreement with the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) to research, develop and guide implementation of the latest advancements in pavement engineering from other states and overseas."

The full report can be found here.

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