Lismore’s roads backlog second biggest in state
LISMORE has the second largest local roads maintenance backlog in New South Wales, with the NRMA reporting an $88.2 million funding shortfall for the region.
The NRMA revealed funding for the Kyogle local roads network had fallen $34.3 million short, while Byron needed $28.5 million, Richmond Valley had a $2.7 million deficit and Ballina needed $1.5 million.
Only Port Macquarie-Hastings Council had a bigger backlog than Lismore, with $91.3 million needed to get its local roads up to scratch.
Lismore City Council's infrastructure services director Gary Murphy said the $88.2 million figure was not alarming - rather, it was the result of good accounting.
Every NSW council self-reported the numbers, with most estimating drops in their funding shortfall since last year.
Councils this year reported repairs of about $1.7 billion, down from $3.2 billion last year on the back of strict reporting requirements under the State Government's Fit for the Future reforms, and the spectre of forced amalgamations they brought.
Mr Murphy said Lismore's estimate was realistic and set an achievable target.
He would not comment on whether other councils had written down their own deficits in an effort to avoid the Fit for the Future chopping block.
Happy with the numbers
"I'm really happy with where the numbers are, and in fact they are likely to increase (due to the rising cost of repairs)," he said.
"It's best not to think about it in relation to scale, or whether we have the 'second highest' backlog.
"If I had a magic wand that gave council that ($88.2 million) number into our accounts, and I could wave it and the next day we would have spent that much money, would the road network be in a suitable condition?
"I reckon it would be.
"That's the best way to look at it."
Last year the council reported a backlog of just $5.7 million - a figure Mr Murphy believed was well short of the mark.
Conversely, Clarence Valley Council went from a reported $224 million infrastructure shortfall in 2015 to just $29 million this year.
Council funding boost
The positive results for most councils also came on the back of the Baird Government's promise to increase grant funding for councils by 40% in the 2015-16 state budget.
"We have a lot of roads that, if we don't waterproof them and hold them in their current condition, they will very quickly go from okay to ruin," Mr Murphy said.
"That's why we're investing a lot of money in reseals and overlays - basically, heavy patching - to hold them in their current condition rather than fix some roads that are already too far gone.
"It's hard for some areas of our community to understand, but we have to do it efficiently.
"We have a four-year plan to hold what we've got before we go back and fix the ones that are too far gone."
The NRMA said there were 1766 deaths and 128,671 people injured on roads managed by NSW councils between 2008 and 2014.
Those deaths and injuries cost regional communities $18 billion over the same period.
"Roads are the single greatest safety issue confronting regional NSW," NRMA president Kyle Loades said.
"The economic impact of these accidents is also devastating. NRMA applauds the increase in money available to overburdened councils, but even if the Roads to Recovery funding announced in the budget is maintained, the backlog would not be met until 2027.
"But this expenditure pales next to the personal and economic impact caused by inadequate roads and infrastructure."
The NRMA has called for the NSW Government to triple its Roads to Recovery funding and return a greater share of fuel excise levies to regional councils.