Council-owned country roads are to undergo a makeover, with 77 projects on the agenda under the government's $42.8 million Fixing Country Roads program, according to an announcement from Transport for New South Wales.
The Fixing Country Roads program was announced in 2014 as an initiative which will identify local projects and provide funding to improve connectivity throughout the state, thereby boosting freight productivity.
According to Minister for Roads and Freight Duncan Gay, local roads and bridges that cannot handle heavy weight prevent high-productivity vehicles such as freight trucks and modern B-doubles from taking the most direct route to their final destination.
"For 16 years under Labor, country communities and businesses were treated like second-class citizens," said Mr Gay, "but now with initiatives like Fixing Country Roads and Bridges for the Bush, regional transport and freight are firmly back on track."
Taking the pressure off rural communities
By targeting a range of issues and projects, the NSW Government hopes to lessen freight traffic through country towns, in addition to providing the funds for local councils and communities to address any key issues with bridges and roads.
By increasing the efficiency and ease with which trucks can get to key freight hubs in NSW, the government hopes to alleviate the "general wear and tear" on council-owned roads, according to Deputy Premier Troy Grant.
Fortifying country freight routes
The program will also prioritise projects, to ensure that high productivity vehicles will be able to access key intermodal sites and freight hubs such as grain silos, rail heads, industrial parks and sale yards as well as depots and container terminals.
"Fixing Country Roads has been designed to complement a number of historic rail freight funding initiatives," said Mr Grant in a recent media release, "including our $277 million investment over five years to upgrade and maintain grain rail lines and $6 million to upgrade rail sidings throughout country NSW."
Of the 77 successful council project bids, 60 are for road and bridge construction. The remaining 17 projects will focus on the assessment of 420 country bridges and culverts, in order to establish their load carrying capability.
The NSW Government has invested a total of $15.4 billion into the improvement and repairs of the state's regional roads, bridges and culverts, equating to $3.85 billion each year since 2011.
Mr Grant congratulated the regional councils that had cooperated with the NSW and national governments in the effort to secure funding for these initiatives. He also expressed that it was the governments' intent that the Fixing Country Roads program should grow to a collective $89 million worth of works over the course of the next few years.
A high price industry
The NSW Government estimates that over the next 20 years, businesses stand to lose almost $1 billion through what it calls "unnecessary diverted freight travel", while taking up an additional 900,000 driver hours.
Through the Fixing Country Roads program, it hopes to reduce freight travel by 35 million vehicle-kilometres each year, also saving NSW in excess of $170 million over the next 20 years in social and environmental costs.
The three-quarters of approved projects are ready to go, according to Mr Gay, meaning that many councils should be set to begin work over the course of the upcoming months.
Submitted projects had to go through an independent Assessment Panel, formed by officials from NSW's Local Government as well as Infrastructure NSW and representatives from the state's Farmers Association and the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association of NSW.
The Assessment Panel selected projects on the merits of their potential to increase freight productivity, as well as lifting existing capacity constraints on the state's country roads network.