The Mudgee Guardian polled readers on the issues they consider most important in the community. Among the many responses, five stood out as the 'top' issues. They were: roads, rail, sustainability, entertainment and housing. An email was sent to each ungrouped candidate and each lead candidate in each group on Monday, November 8 asking for their response.
This week, we look at roads.
Some responses have been edited for length.
I've successfully put forward motions to have a number of dirt roads sealed during my time on Council, many of which should have always been sealed, but were either forgotten or missed. Our biggest hurdle, however, is that there's a significant issue with available funding. Road building and maintenance is particularly expensive, and the price will only increase, so we need to think outside the box to ensure ratepayer money is spent wisely and efficiently.
One area that I'd be very keen to see Mid-Western Regional Council explore is in newer technologies being used in Asia and Europe that reduce the overall cost of road building and road maintenance. This includes better and more advanced road work plant and equipment, and use of alternative materials to drive down the overall cost per kilometre. If we can adopt these new technologies, ratepayers will get more bang for their buck, and I can't see why we can't be one of the first Councils in Australia to adopt new technologies in this area.
In addition to exploring new equipment and technology, we need to obtain additional state and federal government funding through sustained lobbying efforts. Expecting Local Government to foot the bill for many of these roads is unsustainable, because the infrastructure backlog is an issue that exists for every single Council across the country. I believe the key to solving these issues is to completely change the way we look at road building and maintenance, and how we fund the same.
According to Mid-Western Regional Council's website there are approximately 2,500kms of road network within our Local Government Area; which means it is simply impossible for council to be able to attend to every road, sealed or unsealed every year. This is why an annual Road Network Strategic Plan has been developed and is continually being reviewed by council staff. Priority is given to roads that are used more regularly; for example; main streets and school bus routes.
I believe my role as a councillor would be to make sure that every available dollar in the roads budget is spent wisely, and to help council staff where I can, to apply for grants and extra funding so that we can "drive our dollar" even further.
Obviously, if the community has concerns for a road that requires urgent work outside of what is already planned, then I would need to bring that to council staff's attention so that the work that is needed can be done in a timely manner.
Mudgee's regional location can come at a cost to its residents. Our resources are abundant and widespread, which puts infrastructure at risk of getting lost in time, funding, and red tape. It's important to reconcile incoming condition reports from the community with technical advice and available budget.
I'd like to ensure that the major stakeholders (road users, subject-matter-experts) and the available budget for improvements are well balanced and that there's accountability for the decisions being made about what road gets money and why. This transparent process would include ensuring that roads are regularly checked for safety according to the current usage.
Road safety is incredibly important and should be prioritised, especially in a geographically widespread community like ours. I've traversed many roads lately (especially the bumpy ones), driving my son for his daily nap (no, he doesn't sleep anywhere else!) I feel like I have a good knowledge of what makes a good road (don't worry; he's dropped his day naps so I have no vested interest in keeping the odd bumpy road.)
I don't believe our region's roads will ever be perfect and this problem will never be 'fixed' as we are such a small population spread over a wide geographic area. Additionally, there will always be the challenge of managing expectations, especially new residents moving here from metro-areas. Living in rural NSW means living with a range of different issues and lifestyle factors. We can never overcome the distance between the far-flung parts of our Council area and the towns and villages.
Having said that, safety must not be compromised. Not having been a councillor before, or privy to the internal workings of Council, my approach would be to:
MWRC has in place a strong Roads Asset Management Plan.
Rates collected and grants from State and Federal Government help support the road maintenance programme so as your elected representative I will be using my influence to ensure we continue to seek funding from all governments of all persuasions.
Roads: What will you do to ensure that the region's hundreds of kilometres of roads will be maintained and kept safely?
Continue to push for roads that are in need of maintenance as identified by the community. Also prioritise those roads that are utilised as bus routes.
Note: candidate Thompson responded via phone and the response has been edited for length.
I put up a notice of motion - when we were doing a management plan they were recommending more money for gravelling and road maintenance but I didn't believe it was enough. I put up a notice of motion that we have an extra million dollars for a gravelling program and I also put one up that we get another grader, water cart and a roller so we can get more work done on the road maintenance as well.
I told the Mayor and the General Manager that they've got cars and petrol supplied by the ratepayer, can they drive out along Piambong Road - it's not far from one end of the road to the other - and you'll see how bad it is. If you're going to represent the community you need to go and have a look.
I think the key is to constantly and steadily improve our road network - we can't fix every issue at once, but piece by piece we can raise the level of maintenance that regional roads receive, raise the standard of our most-used roads, and take every opportunity to seek additional government funding for projects that make our roads better and more useable. Almost half of council's annual budget is spent on roads and associated projects. We need to ensure that roads expenditure is always growing as council's works budget grows and the usage of our roads becomes heavier. As the region's population grows, our roads bear more traffic, even as the community comes to expect a higher standard of road.
However, a growing community also creates a stronger council that is able to achieve more. It is not simply a matter of doing more roadworks - council must constantly improve its processes, improve its capability to do work by updating council's equipment, and improve its understanding of the community's priorities. We must always be measuring road usage and listening to community feedback to keep council's priorities aligned with current community needs. In short, the answer is that council's entire approach to roads must always be improving and strengthening, to slowly and steadily create a road network that can make us all proud.
In reviewing the Mid Western Roads Asset Management Plan which is dated 18th May 2016.
The projections listed are to 2025. The Mid Western area is responsible for 209km of state highways, 992km of sealed local and regional roads and 1,255km of unsealed local and regional roads. From 2022 to 2025 we are expected to see the projected expenditure begin to overtake the budgeted expenditure. In order to make sure the services for our growing population are fair and sustainable. Planning for the next 10 year period should begin incorporating a review of priorities, funding and management processes.
Since being elected as a Councillor in 2016, the Council has increased the roads budget year on year and it's been great to see so many projects completed. For example upgrades on: Hill End Road,
Ulan Road, Wollar Road, Castlereagh Highway, Goolma Road and the Bylong Valley Way.
However there is still more to be done as the Mid-Western Regional Council area has a large sealed and unsealed road network and Council alone does not have the financial capacity to maintain this network. Among other grants, Council received $5.2 million for the sealing of some bus route sections, including Pyramul Road, Cox's Creek Road and Queens Pinch Road.
I will continue to push for more road funding from the State and Federal Governments and as
Council's nominated representative on the Traffic Committee I am aware first hand of major problems in maintenance and safety regarding our roads and these can be added to the maintenance schedule or programmed into future works.
As well as more regular maintenance, I want to see different methods sampled when grading and sealing roads. It is very frustrating to see potholes and other problems develop on recently sealed roads. Trialing new and different methods can determine if increased quality and lifespan of the road surface is possible. If so, they could potentially save our ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
Mid-Western Regional Council's Roads Asset Management Plan recognise that roads have been voted the most important issues for residents and ratepayers. The plan says it costs Council approximately $15.2 million per year to maintain around 2,500km of roads. This plan admits that Council does not have enough money to complete the road maintenance that is needed most years. The plan proposes eight options to address this issue. Has anyone consulted with you on these 8 options and asked your views on them? If your answer is no then you are not alone.
The Roads Asset Management Plan even goes on that consultation is needed on the eight options it proposes. This plan was written in 2016, the year the current Councillors were elected, and we believe that it is time that the community is consulted on this plan.
I believe that the role of Councillors is to ensure the community is engaged around these complex issues. As an Every Decision, Every Time Councillor I will be committed to engaging with you around these options and your opinions on them. I will also be asking if there are other options that you believe should be on the table. I will then ensure that the results of this consultation are fed back to Council so that the community's views can be represented.
Firstly I feel there should be a review of all roads in the Mid-Western region and from that review Council can ascertain which roads are in critical need of repair and those that are fair. It seems that roads that are fair are being resurfaced while the roads that are critical are receiving patches.
Once Council knew which roads were critical they could seek grant funding and lobby State and Federal Government for funding.
As the roads around the region are continuously being patched etc. I feel it would be better to look at the latest technology for more sustainable road surfaces e.g
Micro asphalt is one that is waterproof and, once cured, improves traction, making roads safe for users. More than just a short-term solution, micro asphalt can prolong the life of a road for up to 10 years without the need for invasive road repairs that cause significant disruption.
Surely looking at and introducing the latest technology in road surfaces would prove to be a more cost effective way to go.
Since joining the Mid-Western Regional Council 13 years ago, I have worked hard to secure millions in State Government funding to ensure that our region's roads can be safely maintained and upgraded on a continual basis. Thanks to my long-established relationships with State Government officials and experience with the funding application process, we saw our 2016 $18 million roads budget increase by over 65% to $30 million in 2020/21. This money will be spent on capital improvements to our local road network.
Roads are a cornerstone of our region's transport system. However what we have is a traffic committee and no transport plan and it's a transport plan that we need.
We need a plan that encompasses road, rail and air. A plan that is for the future taking account of the changes that are heading our way, such as the widespread adoption of electric vehicles over the next 10 or so years.
If elected to Council I will push for the formation of a working group within Council, with elected oversight, to plan how we will met the transport needs of residents, businesses and visitors, equitably and sustainably, across the Mid-Western Region.
Council has increased the roads budget by millions over the years yet we still have to revote budgets each year as the works were not completed. This isn't because of the dedicated efforts of our Council staff, its because, amongst other reasons such as weather and availability of resource's, it's because of lack of staff to complete the works. We need to increase staffing levels and purchase more plant equipment to complete the work.
We also need to increase our lobbying efforts to have the Bylong Valley Way reclassified as a state road. The money we would save would facilitate more options in purchasing and staffing levels whilst also increasing work on sealed and unsealed roads.
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