ADDITIONAL annual funding of $1 million will be required for South Gippsland Shire Council to continue to take a proactive approach to maintaining its roads, eliminating risks before they present.
This was the message – and the recommendation – from Operations Manager Fred Huitema in a recent briefing to Council. He said that the million dollars would be necessary if the wet winters continue and equates to a rate rise of approximately 3 per cent.
The shire is responsible for 780 kilometres of sealed roads and 1300 km of unsealed roads. It shares responsibility for roads with VicRoads, which tends to be responsible for major roads, including the South Gippsland Highway.
There was a backlog of as many as 1000 outstanding customer and Road Inspector requests when it was decided to trial a new program from July to December last year. Despite the two wettest seasons in ten years, which resulted in devastating rain damage, through its new program Council managed to whittle down the number of outstanding requests to approximately 400.
The trial program was so successful its initiatives have been retained.
All roads are now inspected in each zone – rather than on a hierarchy basis as previously – and joint inspections are made by the Supervisor and Road Inspector to combine the inspections and programming into one process.
Inspections are carried out with a view to undertaking pro-active maintenance, which significantly reduces road defects and customer requests.
The sealing crew are made use of in winter by the introduction of a response crew. All urgent issues and customer requests are dealt with by making roads safe until maintenance crews can attend to them. This enables the zone maintenance crews to focus on planned works.
“This winter, with the extra resources focusing on requests, we hope to be at a stage where we can focus more on proactive work such as cleaning drains,” said Mr Huitema. “We have developed a long-term drainage program with the intention of cleaning all sealed road table drains on a seven-year cycle (100km per annum) at a cost of approximately $7000 per km.”
The move to mobile computing with the introduction of tablets with GPS and map-based capability for recording of inspections, defects, etc. has further increased efficiencies.
Mr Huitema said extra funding for roads has also allowed the introduction of a grader operator mentoring program and allowed crews to take the time to complete jobs to a higher standard and reduce the need for re-work.
The operations manager suggested that flexibility was the key to the way forward.
He recommended using a combination of contractors and council staff, so that road maintenance crews could be scaled up or down to suit seasonal demands and the shire could carry out proactive works, such as drains and heavy grading of unsealed roads, during optimum weather conditions. A pool of subcontractors is in place to draw upon as required for civil works and labour hire.
Anyone with any concerns about council roads is invited to report road defects on the South Gippsland Shire Council website. One of the first questions you will be asked is the location of the road – Council is clearly keen to distance itself from roads managed by VicRoads, many of which (the South Gippsland Highway in particular) have been the target of widespread public anger in recent months because of their condition. You can also report defects to the shire offices on 5662 9200.