OPINION: Rural Roads deserve critical attention and funding

Just months out from State and Federal Budgets being handed down, there will be a lot of discussion in the lead up around priorities for agriculture. I have no doubt that many of those conversations will be focussed on roads and infrastructure – and so they should be.

In late 2022, Grain Producers SA consulted grain producers, truck drivers and community members to establish a list of the top 10 Worst Grain Roads. One of those top 10 roads is based in the South East and this key route is continually getting worse as it continually gets neglected.

Frances Road runs for 76 kilometres from south of Bordertown to Hynam, through Frances and several small towns. As a main grain route during harvest, many respondents to Grain Producers SA’s (GPSA) Worst Grain Roads campaign called the road “rough”, “narrow”, and “unsafe”, with the deteriorating condition of the road causing trucks and their trailers to pitch and bounce dangerously. 

 Local grain producers describe it as “one of the most poorly maintained sealed roads anywhere” and “because it is not a highway it doesn’t get the attention it needs”.

I recently visited this stretch of road and its surface is undulating, particularly towards the Victorian border, and it’s very skinny in parts. There has been a small section of surface upgrading as you enter Frances Road from Bordertown but it doesn’t last long. Chatting to a local grain producer during the visit, he told me that hitting some of the road patches in a truck is “like hitting a motorcross jump”.

Frances Road is a major freight route to local grain delivery points, farms and seed cleaning sheds at Frances, Wolseley, Bordertown, Naracoorte and more.  It’s hard to fathom that this road isn’t getting the attention it needs.

A Grattan Institute Report released in late 2023 titled ‘Potholes and Pitfalls’ found an extra one billion dollars in funding from the Federal Government is needed each year to fix local roads across Australia. 

The report found that about 20 percent of the cost of a road is in the construction, and the rest of the costs are the whole of life costs. But when Governments make decisions to invest, they often don’t take account of the whole of life costs.

Over time the usage of roads, particularly by heavy vehicles that do almost all the damage, has increased. Whereas the spending on maintenance has not increased. 

The South Australian grain industry that delivers about $4 billion to the state’s economy annually deserves a smoother surface to market. Let’s hope the State and Federal Budget delivers just this.

To view the Worst Grain Roads report, visit www.worstgrainroads.com.au  

Originally published in the Stock Journal.