They are the well-used thoroughfares of far western NSW, but the roads out there are becoming more like “bulldust bog”, hindering transport for water, fodder, livestock and tourism.
The prolonged dry conditions have left the unsealed roads in the Central Darling Shire Council and Unincorporated Area in such a poor state that motorists are taking their vehicles off-road into the table drains to escape the corrugated surfaces.
On some roads there are holes nearly one metre deep and transport operators are being forced to drive as slow as 10 kilometres an hour, which is doubling their journey time.
While the State Government has invested money into upgrades along the Cobb and Silver City highways, no water is being blamed for the lack of maintenance.
Craig Dillon of Yunta Transport, who has been operating in the far west for 25 years, said the roads were the worst he had ever seen.
Mr Dillon also said his maintenance bill had doubled in 2018 with tyre replacement and repairs on his gear due to the roads, but he was not passing on costs to his customers.
“The roads are extremely bad, they are so cut up there are bull dust bog holes because it’s so dry,” Mr Dillon said.
“They are not doing a lot of road work and the excuse is no water.
“On the road you see everything out there, people driving in paddocks and getting bogged and in some places there are holes 2.5 feet deep (75 centimeters).”
...you see everything out there, people driving in paddocks and getting bogged and in some places there are holes 2.5 feet deep.
Pastoralists’ Association of West Darling president Lachlan Gall echoed Mr Dillon’s sentiments saying corrugations were a big problem.
“The unsealed roads are breaking up under the pressure of countless trucks delivering hay, grain, pellets, molafos, cottonseed and other feeds," he said.
“Trucks are reduced to travelling at 10km/hr in some cases, and there is no water for Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) to undertake repairs.”
He said some trucking companies were refusing to go onto unsealed roads while others were raising their rates or were considering switching to an hourly rate, rather than charging by the kilometre.
But he said the association was lobbying for some of the funding that had been announced for road repairs, as well as the Federal Government’s Drought Communities Program, to be directed towards the drilling of road bores.
Mr Gall added it not only affected landholders but towns in the far west which relied on tourism to survive.
“Once people hear a road is bad it spreads and no one wants to travel on it,” he said.
The worst roads are west of the Darling River including the Cut Line Road between Bourke and Tibooburra, Mutawintji Rd, Henry Roberts Rd, as well as the Menindee to Wicannia east and west side roads.
Central Darling Shire Council administrator Greg Wright said it was a constant struggle to maintain the roads, particularly given the dry conditions.
“One adverse dry event and roads get ripped up, but there is not enough water to cart,” Mr Wright said.
“I would love to put a grader on the roads. All major improvement are entirely dependent on grant funding.”
A RMS spokesperson said as part of the 2018-19 budget, $130 million had been allocated until 2023 to complete the sealing of the Cobb and Silver City highways.
The spokesperson said the RMS had 15 bores at strategic locations in the Unincorporated Area, used specifically for road maintenance and reconstruction.
The RMS has plans in future years to construct 14 new bores and dams, the spokesperson said.
“RMS is continuing its repair schedule of grading, gravel re-sheeting and ripping, and re-compacting. Work is being prioritised on critical stock and tourist routes, and has recently been carried out to remove corrugations on Mutawintji Road,” the spokesperson said.