An election pledge of $1 billion to help fix local roads and repair country bridges in NSW was great news for regional and rural councils, the local government sector said.
But Local Government NSW (LGNSW) said the State Government’s announcement would make a difference only if it was “new money” added to the existing Fixing Local Roads and Fixing Country Bridges Programs.
“There has long been an urgent need for additional funding for rural and regional roads in NSW and it’s been top of both the sector and the community’s priority lists for many years,” the peak body’s President, Cr Linda Scott, said.
“Wooden bridges are an important part of the economy, history and identity of many country towns and their maintenance shouldn’t sit entirely on the shoulders of our councils.”
Under the announcement, the NSW Government’s existing $543 million Fixing Country Roads program will be boosted to a total of $1.54 billion in funding available to councils before and after the upcoming state election; including a $500-million Fixing Local Roads program to assist councils in repairing, maintaining and sealing important local roads; and a $500-million Fixing Country Bridges program to replace the worst timber bridges in regional and rural communities.
The programs also include the transfer of up to 15,000km of council-owned roads back to the state government to manage. A new independent panel will be created to oversee the asset transfer process under the new programs.
“LGNSW has pushed hard for the potential reclassification of some local and regional roads as State roads,” Cr Scott said.
“The majority were ‘gifted’ as assets by state governments that were well aware they would become a huge expense for the receiving council.
“The unfair classification of many roads is just another area in which cost-shifting has squeezed council budgets mercilessly, as they’re forced to choose between repair of these roads and critical maintenance on other community infrastructure.”
Councils currently own and manage 90 per cent of NSW’s roads – about 166,000km of the total 185,000km road network.
Councils also own and manage about 1,800 wooden bridges across NSW, some of which are more than 100 years old.
“This investment represents a very positive step forward for people living in rural and regional communities as well as rural and regional industries,” Cr Scott said.
“I welcome this announcement and look forward to continuing to work with our State colleagues to address the total rural and regional road maintenance backlog.”
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