During the last 3 weeks Ripley1 has safely transported us across a great variety of road surfaces and conditions.
From glassy smooth highways south of Brisbane, to bumpy corrugated access tracks, to diarrhoea covered back roads near Tamworth.

But by far, WAY by far, the worst bit of road we had to endure this trip was a seemingly infinite stretch of the southbound lane of the M1 just north of Sydney.

Thats right. The most rubbish section of road we have yet to travel on was our national highway.

Ripley bounced and shook and jarred and spasmed. She rocked and jolted and whiplashed. She sounded like an Ikea store having a seizure.

It got worse.
My fillings bounced around in my oropharynx like silver pong, and my left eyeball was catapulted from its socket.

Wh-wh-wh-what. Th-th-th-the. F-f-f-f-FRICK?!?

At a total length of over 14,500 kilometres, Highway One is one of the longest road routes in the world easily surpassing both the Trans-Siberian Highway and the Trans-Canada Highway.

Linking seven of our eight capital cities, Highway One incorporates classic drives across the Nullarbor, through the Kimberley and along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. It provides access to New South Wales’ string of seaside national parks, passes through coastal towns along Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, and curves beneath giant karris in Western Australia’s southwestern forests.
Highway One: worlds greatest road trip (National Geographic)

So. A magnificent national achievement.
However, this particular section of the M1 was, to use the technical descriptor: total shit. In fact the magnitude and variety of distinct, singular bits of shit that made up its totality of shittyness was quite mesmerising.

There were wide and sometimes gaping cracks, some running transversely and others winding lengthwise for considerable distances.

There were uneven, unmatched slabs of repaired concrete and asphalt jutting up at odd angles giving a pretty good simulation of driving Ripley across the Khumbu Ice Field of Mt Everest.

There were bits of debris all over the road, stones and other conglomerations of broken road, and bits & pieces of cars that had shaken or broken off, and there were fillings, and eyeballs.

There was a lunar landscape of potholes. A couple of them were seriously big (along with the cracks this must be a total death trap for motorcyclists navigating this stretch of road).

There was a rough worn surface that had degraded to form corrugations in the road surface. Perhaps not quite so bad for family cars with decent suspension but perfectly spaced to send Ripley into washboard arrhythmias.

And, there were places where little square bits of road about the volume of house bricks were simply missing in action.

All these aberrations and defects occurred not in spaced out separate incidents, but in a simultaneous woven and criss-crossed passage of post apocalyptic danger for motorists, motorcyclists and heavy vehicles alike.

Now, to be fair, Australia has a lot of road to look after. A lot.

Many roads in Australia are now over 40 years old and are not designed to support todays traffic volumes or vehicle weights. Small natural imperfections in the road surfaces are pummelled and baked and soaked, evolving into cracks and potholes and corrugations.

In 2014 alone vehicles travelled over 242 billion kilometres over its surfaces. The resulting wear and tear is estimated to cost taxpayers over A$20 billion on road construction and maintenance this year.

That includes minor repairs such as filling (or reparation as it is called) of individual potholes, maintenance to larger sections of road (including resealing and remaining line markings) and extensive rehabilitation of failed road surfaces and structures.

Whilst the building of brand new highways is vitally important, these sorts of grand projects tend to feel very instagram-able and sexy to federal and state Governments, so funding programs for maintenance & repair tends to slip down in priority. And the money is finite.

Unfortunately, it is a vicious cycle. In heavy use areas or remote areas, untended roads degrade, are given band-aid or temporary fix ups and left to break down further. Which they do with ever increasing rapidity.

In one state alone last year (WA), over 100 compensation claims were made by motorists for damage caused by potholes, road debris and loose stones.
It seems most of these claims are rejected with many more going unreported in the first place.

I can only imagine the cost of personal injury or worse, that might be attributable to these sorts of road conditions.

Ripley survived the section of M1 structurally intact (although the contents of her cupboards not so much so).
I found my eyeball under the dashboard.
And we went on to roughride a few streets of Sydney without further incident.

But wow, I did not expect to experience this sort of neglect in such a long section of our national highway.
We really need to do more to lobby for governments to improve the road surfaces on these older sections of roads be they national highways or ‘B’ and ‘C’ roads. This is not just an issue of infrastructure upgrade, its an issue of our collective safety.


References:

  1. Road Construction & Maintenance. BIS Oxford Economics (pdf).
  2. Road Maintenance in Australia 2017-2031 BIS Oxford Economics (pdf)
  3. News article: WA drivers seeking compensation for potholes.

  1. Ripley is the name of our camper van. Why? See here.

Posted by Ian Miller

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