A history of Austroads and its predecessors

Austroads is the leading body in Australia for road transport. Austroads produces the Australia standards for road construction and design as well as guidelines for urban planning. Most of Austroads’ work these days is done by contractors and Austroads itself consist only of clerical and administrative staff. Regular Austroads meetings are conducted biennially, featuring representatives from all the State and Territory road authorities, the (Federal) Department of Transport and Regional Services and New Zealand . Austroads has no legislative authority to impose standards and acts merely as a conference of these road authorities.

A conference of the Commonwealth and State Ministers for Transport in Melbourne in 1933 decided that there should be an annual conference of State road authority executives. As a result the NSW Commissioner for Main Roads instigated the First Annual Conference of State Road Authorities (COSRA) and wrote in his invitation that “it would be a good thing for us to meet as road men interested in the development of our states and transport facilities, and there are many problems which it is thought could be better dealt with jointly.” (p. 84)

The first COSRA meeting took place in Melbourne over 3 days in February 1934. The agenda dealt with matters including the organisation of the conference, road finance and legislation, coordinating research and disseminating information, along with a number of technical issues. The main benefit of COSRA is that it gave the State road authorities the opportunity to find out what other states were doing. Instead of each state trying to solve the same problems, they could make a separate but coordinated contribution to the solution.

There were two meetings each year, one of which the heads of the state road authorities attended and the other which was a meeting of their technical officers. The technical meetings tackled practical engineering matters and policy in detail, helping to create innovations that later became commonplace, such as a standard method for using mileposts or more complex matters like design loading on bridges.

In 1939 the conference was indefinitely postponed due to the Second World War and not resumed until 1945.

Following the War, COSRA was resumed and one of the key issues addressed by the Conference was that of route marking. COSRA worked to produce a master plan for a National Route marking scheme in 1954, designed to produce a navigation system that was consistent across the entire country, regardless of state borders. The first route to be signed as a trial was National Route 31 (Hume Highway) in 1954 and the scheme was widely successful. To keep the system National, COSRA was instilled as the coordinating authority - all proposals for changes to the National Route system had to be approved by COSRA. The Secretariat of COSRA kept a register of the approved National Routes, however, this register seems to have been destroyed or lost as I cant seem to recover it.

The name of the conference was changed to 'National Association of Australia State Road Authorities' (NAASRA) in October 1959 to reflect its growth into an organisation, not just a conference. In 1960 NAASRA set up the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) to further coordinate and encourage research into all aspects of road-making, planning and management.

NAASRA continued where COSRA left off in coordinating route marking systems across Australia. Guidelines were established to ensure uniformity in the signposting of the National Route system and NAASRA also developed guidelines for the establishment of a State Route marking system. The state route marking guidelines were made well before any state actually set up a blue-shielded route marking system.

The guidelines for National Routes were as such:

" NATIONAL ROUTES - To guide state road authorities seeking approval to classify a particular highway as a National Route the association has adopted the following guidelines (adopted at 34th meeting (May 1967))
• The routes must be of interstate significance
• The routes are to be those which, both now and in the future, comprise the more important arteries of road communications throughout Australia in all its aspects, including land use, industrial and commercial development, tourism and defence
• The importance of the routes as part of the state system, as distinct from the national system, must not be the prime reason for recommending or approving National Routes

MARKING AND CLASSIFYING ROUTES - The following guidelines for marking an classifying National Routes were adopted at the 51st meeting (May 1974)
• When there are alternative routes, the most favourable and most convenient for through traffic should be signed as the National Route
• The addition of new routes, the extension of existing routes and the deletion of existing routes or parts of existing routes should be recommended by the relevant state for consideration by NAASRA.
• When sections of existing National Routes are varied by the construction of deviations or otherwise, the relevant state is to approve the re-routing of the National Route and advise NAASRA of the action taken for record purposes
• When the National Route is re-routed, as above, and the existing (original) route remains an important link, it may be signed as an Alternative Route. This matter is to be decided by the relevant state and NAASRA advised for record sake." 1

Following the approval of a National Route, the engineer-secretary shall notify the state road authority concerned of the approval and shall allocate a number for the route. East-west number routes shall have even numbers, with the numbers increasing from south to north. North-south routes shall have odd numbers, with numbers increasing from east to west. The exception is National Route 1 which is a circumferential route along the coastline of Australia. The engineer-secretary shall maintain a register of approved routes. Adopted 40th meeting (Nov 1969).

The guidelines for State Routes were as such:

The 24th meeting (November 1961) adopted the following policy on the marking of state routes:
1. Purpose of Route Marking
The purpose of a state system of route numbering is to provide for the numbering in the several states and territories of inter-regional and urban routes additional to those on which National Route marking has been adopted.
State Route markers are supplementary to appropriate direction or advance direction signs which enable road users to travel on routes in the intended direction by following place name signs.
2. Design of Markers
Shape and Colour: State Route markers shall be a shield shaped sign, similar to that adopted in New Zealand, the shape of the sign to conform with the following specifications:
(a) top shall be straight
(b) sides shall be smooth curves meeting a point on the vertical centreline of the sign
(c) Height, 14in.
(d) Width at top, 11in.
(e) Width 5in. from top, 14in.
They shall have a background colour of Aircraft Blue (BSS 381C 1948 No. 108) and any numerals, arrows or borders shown thereon shall be in white. The markers shall be reflectorised or illuminated. The reverse side of standard markers, oversize markers ad arrow boards shall be painted white.
Numerals and Letters: Any number may be used provided the same number is not used for both a National Route and a State Route within the boundaries of one any on state, or for two routes in the vicinity of the border of two adjoining states. Numerals series to be used on the signs shall be to a minimum legibility standard and tolerance of plus 2in to be allowed on dimensions of standard size marker if required.
Size of Markers and Arrow Boards: Three sizes of markers shall be used as follows:
(a) standard marker for use in all cases except those provided for in (b) and (c) below
(b) oversize marker for use as follows:
(i) As a guidance marker in rural or urban areas in all cases where the route being followed turns though an intersection or junction, No other route marker is to be erected on the same post in such a case
(ii) Where a single route marker is to be erected on a post and the larger marker is considered necessary for its greater target value and because of distractions and background competing for driver’s attention
(c) Small marker for use in conjunction with a standard direction sign in the following cases only:
(i) As a supplement to standard markers or oversize markers where State Routes intersect other State Routes or National Routes or turn at an intersection
(ii) As a supplement or alternative to markers where other roads intersect with a State Route
Small makers shall be single or double-sided as required.
Use of Arrows: Each marker shall bear one route number only. Standard markers and oversize markers shall bear direction signs, or be used in conjunction with arrow boards, subject to the following:
(i) Arrows need not necessarily accompany reassurance markers
(ii) Arrows shall not be used where the word “END” is used to mark the end of the numbered route, generally at a junction with another numbered route.
Small markers shall not bear any direction arrows, nor should arrow boards be used in conjunction with them.
3. Erection of Markers.
Standard markers and oversize markers, with or without arrow boards, may be erected on existing posts or poles provided the pattern of arrangement and heights of the markers are consistent with those specified. In both urban and rural areas, the height of standard markers and of oversize markers above the kerb or the crown of the road, and the horizontal clearance from the face of the kerb or the edge of the pavement shall be as for National Route markers.

4. Location of Markers
Guidance Markers shall be placed:
(i) at or before all intersections and junctions with National or State Routes
(ii) before all intersections where the State Route turns
(iii) before all intersections or junctions where the surface of the state route changes (eg. From black-top to gravel) and where considered necessary
(iv) before an intersection or junction with an important road
(v) at an intersection or junction with an important road or, where considered desirable, with a minor road, facing the minor road to furnish immediate information to those going from it onto the state route
Reassurance Markers should be placed:
(vi) beyond all intersections and junctions before which guidance markers have been erected in accordance with (i), (ii) and (iii)
(vii) where considered necessary, beyond intersections and junctions before which guidance markers have been erected in accordance with (iv) and (v)
(viii) beyond all intersections or junctions with important roads before which guidance markers have not been erected
(ix) just outside the built-up area of a city or town
(x) in rural areas, other than as set out in (vi), (vii), (viii) or (ix), at intervals not exceeding ten miles but not closer than five miles to a route marker facing the same direction
Standard markers and oversize markers for traffic following a State Route should be on the left of approaching traffic except in special cases, such as at channelised intersections. Standard markers or small markers provided for guidance of traffic joining from a road which is not a state route shall face that traffic.
The location of guidance markers and reassurance markers at intersections and junctions shall be determined as for National Route markers, and the same rules shall apply where state or National Routes intersect or junction.
All markers which are to be placed at one location, facing in one direction, shall be erected on one post. The following principles or arrangements shall be applied. When two of these principles conflict, then the earlier stated of the tow shall prevail.
(i) Where two markers are to be placed on one past they shall be placed one above the other
(ii) Where three or five markers are placed on one post all of them should be carried on side brackets
(iii) Where four markers are placed on one post all of them should be carried on side brackets
(iv) A marker for a turn or junction shall be placed on the side to which the turn or junction is made
(v) The marker for an intersecting state or National Route shall be placed on one side
(vi) The marker(s) for the route(s) which have been followed should be placed on top
(vii) Markers shall be arranged in numerical order from left to right and downwards
In view of the number of arrangements possible with multiple signs, it is usually necessary to design a complete layout including supports.

5. Selection of Routes for Marking
The selection of routes for state marking is a matter for each individual state. The following is a set of principles:
(i) State Routes in rural areas should have a particular cross-country significance and should not merely connect one town with the next
(ii) State Routes marked in large metropolitan areas should be generally important radial and circumferential routes
(iii) State Route markers should not be erected on routes on which National Routes markers have been erected except for the lengths common to State and National Routes when a State Route converges on a National Route and then diverges after a short distance

6. Allocation of Numbers to Routes
There should be a discernible pattern in the allocation of numbers to urban routes. A recommended pattern is the use of odd numbers for circumferential routes and even numbers for radial routes.

NAASRA also published a mapr every year showing the extent that route marking signs had been erected across the country. "NAASRA MAPS - Maps of each state showing the principal roads and their surface conditions as at 30 June of each year may be viewed at the secretariat and the head offices of the state road authorities. To assist map publishers and tourist bodies the association annually issues a map showing the extent of route markers erected on National Routes. Copies of the map can be obtained free of charge from the secretariat."2

NAASRA was also proactive in the push for a National Highway system, adopting a system of 'Principal National Routes' that would provide a satisfactory minimum road network, disregarding state boundaries. The 'Principal National Routes' were subject to the following guidelines:
PRINCIPAL NATIONAL ROUTES - NAASRA adopted these guidelines at 53rd meeting (May 1975)
• They shall be those roads which form the principal avenues for communication between major regions of the commonwealth including direct connections between capital cities
• They shall be only National Routes, the selection of which shall be governed by the following citeria
(a) The routes must be such as to encourage interstate or inter-regional travel over the shortest routes and best roads
(b) The routes are to be those which, both now and in the future, comprise the more important arteries of road communications throughout Australia in all its aspects, including land use, industrial and commercial development, tourism and defence
(c) The importance of the routes as part of the state system, as distinct from the national system, must not be the prime reason for recommending or approving National Routes
(d) Any proposals that would exploit the prestige of a National Route by directing traffic over routes that are not the shortest and best available between towns, especially when it appears to be for the purpose of meeting local pressures, shall not be included as National Routes

Despite their excellent intentions, NAASRA was unable to provide any legislative or funding basis for the system as they were not a government department.

Unfortunately, the role of NAASRA deminished during the 1980s due to many factors, including greater federal control of road construction and funding. NAASRA continued to produce Australian Standards but often there were meetings simply for the sake of meeting. The members of NAASRA had forged a strong bond and it began to be more of a social event. The federal government in July 1989 completely disbanded NAASRA and created a new organisation, known as Austroads. Austroads consists only of administrative staff - all research and engineering work is done by contract - but they still produce the Australian standards for construction, planning and design in roads.

Probably Austroads most significant publication yet is 'Towards a Nationally Consistent Approach to Route Marking' which was published in 1997. It talks about a new system of alpha-numeric route marking that all the transport ministers agreed to in May 1997 to be implemented across the country. Austroads, in association with all the Australian state road authorities, prepared guidelines to assist jurisdictions in implementing the route numbering system in a consistent manner. The guidelines apply to all rural roads and, where practicable, continuity of signposting is also to be adopted for arterial roads that traverse provincial cities and metropolitan areas. It was also recognised that route standards would differ between states and classification lengths may contain isolated sub-standard sections that will be addressed over time.

"The numbering regime states that:
• M, A, B, C routes that are continuous across State Borders should have consistent numbers (this will require adjacent jurisdictions to agree to route numbers)
• The numbering of all other routes (i.e. those not continuous across state borders) will be determined by each jurisdiction
• The same route numbers could be used in each State’s route numbering system, however neighbouring states should ensure that route numbers are not duplicated in proximity of state borders
• The National Highway route numbers will be retained, except where adjacent jurisdictions and the Commonwealth mutually agree on the rationalising numbering as required
• Route numbers should be continuous along a particular route
When routes are upgraded, there should only be a change in the route classification over a substantial length. Constant change in the route classification would not appear sensible to road users."3

Austroads is currently based in Sydney and funded by the federal government. Formal liason between each of the state (and federal) road authorities is till conducted, as well as with New Zealand.

1. NAASRA; "Guide to Publications and Policies of NAASRA"; 1976
2. NAASRA; "Guide to Publications and Policies of NAASRA"; 1976
3. Austroads; "Towards a Nationally Consistent Approach to Route Marking"; 1997

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