Road Classification in Western Australia

What are road classifications and why are they used?

Road classification is a mechanism used by the State Government, through the Commissioner for Main Roads, to assist asset management. Classifying roads allows a hierarchy of strategic importance, management responsibility and funding priority to be established, usually within a legislative framework.

How does the Western Australia system work?

Classification of roads in Western Australia is provided for under the Main Roads Act 1930. Under the Act, the Governor – following recommendation from the Commissioner for Main Roads - has the power to proclaim roads, or part of roads, into the following classifications:

  • Highways
  • Main Roads
  • Secondary Roads

Concurrence of local government authorities concerned is required before the Commissioner can recommend a proclamation to the Governor.

Declared ‘Highways’ and ‘Main Roads’ form the State Road Network, of which Main Roads WA (equivalent to the RTA in NSW or Vicroads in Victoria) is the owner, manager and financier. Secondary Roads, whilst still provided for under Section 26 of the Act, are no longer used. A review of the State Road Network in 1995 saw all Secondary Roads either upgraded to Main Roads or decommissioned completely. See the Historical Notes for further information regarding Secondary Roads.

Roads that are not declared as either Highways, Main Roads or Secondary Roads under the Act are unclassified roads. Most unclassified roads are commonly referred to as local roads and are the responsibility of local government authorities. Other unclassified roads, depending on their location, can be under the jurisdiction of other Government authorities. There is also a number of private roads owned, for example, by mining companies. Some of these roads are accessible to the public via permit.

How are classified roads numbered?

All roads in Western Australia, including unclassified roads, are numbered with a 7-digit figure. The first three digits are the number of the local government area – each local government area has been assigned a number – and the last four digits are the number of the road.

However, for classified roads this system is a little bit different. Classified roads do not have a local government area number; the first three digits of all classified road numbers are 000. The fourth digit is either a ‘H’ for Highway, an ‘M’ for Main Road or an ‘S’ for Secondary Road. As mentioned earlier, the Secondary Roads classification, whilst still provided for under the Main Roads Act 1930, is no longer used. The final three digits in a classified road number form the road number itself, for example 001. Highways, Main Roads and Secondary Roads can all have the same final three digits, e.g. 001, but the preceding digit (either a ‘H’, an ‘M’ or an ‘S’) differentiates them.

When referring to classified roads, usually the zeros prior to another number are not included. For example, road number 000H050 would usually just be referred to as H50.

Examples of classified road numbers are:

  • 000M001 (Main Road No. 1) = Albany-Lake Grace
  • 000H001 (Highway No. 1) = Albany Highway

Numbering of classified roads does not correlate directly to the chronological order in which they were proclaimed, i.e. Albany Highway was not necessarily the first ever Highway that was proclaimed. The numbering system for classified roads was changed some years ago and thus the first 30 or so Highways were all numbered at the same time.

How are classified roads named?

Naming of classified roads in Western Australia can be quite difficult to understand. Most Highways are given a single name along their entire length, e.g. Great Eastern Highway, whilst others are just referred to by their point-to-point name, e.g. Perth-Bunbury Highway. Main Roads are named in the same way. The legally declared name for Main Roads, if named on a point-to-point basis, does not included the suffix ‘road’; it merely refers to point A and point B. For example, M1’s (Main Road No. 1) name is ‘Albany – Lake Grace’.

Some confusion exists where Highways and Main Roads outside of metropolitan Perth pass through towns. In most cases, the Highway or Main Road is given a ‘local’ name, e.g. High Street or Main Street, which is recognised by the Department of Land Information, who deals with property titles. However, for Main Roads WA purposes, including directional signposting, the Highway or Main Road name is used.

Another confusing issue with naming is that the Geographical Names Committee also has the power to name roads and those roads named by the Committee often have no correlation with the classification of roads under the Main Roads Act 1930. For example, the Muirs Highway (from Manjimup to Mount Barker) is classified as a Main Road under the Act yet is given a Highway moniker by the Geographical Names Committee. The same situation also exists for the Vasse and Brockman Highways.

Three major differences

The Western Australia road classification system has three major differences, or idiosyncrasies, when compared to most other states.

Metropolitan Perth

In metropolitan Perth, the State Road Network is made up of only those ‘primary arterial roads’ (as classified by function under the Metropolitan Region [Planning] Scheme) which equates to 38 different roads – the remainder being the responsibility of the respective local government authority. Each road within the State Road Network in metropolitan Perth is declared a ‘Highway’ under the Main Roads Act 1930. Thus, as far as declared road status goes, roads like Wanneroo Road and Morley Drive are on the same level as the Roe, Tonkin or Great Eastern Highways. Highways within Perth that have not been given a Highway moniker, e.g. the Karrinyup-Morley highway, are generally referred to by the local usage names. In the case of the Karrinyup-Morley highway, those names would be Karrinyup Road and Morley Drive.

Ramps to/from Highways

Unlike in other states where ramps to or from a Highway would be part of that Highway, in Western Australia the ramps are declared and numbered individually and each are classified as a Highway. They have their own section of the Highway numbers – ranging from 000H501 to 00H8xx. An example of this would be the southbound off-ramp from Mitchell Freeway to Hepburn Avenue in Perth (H600).

Rotaries (a.k.a roundabouts)

Rotaries (a.k.a roundabouts) larger than 40 metres in radius are declared Highways in their own right and also numbered individually. There are a number of these large rotaries in Western Australia, particularly in regional areas where the turning movements of road trains need to be accommodated. These rotaries are numbered 000H4xx. Examples of these include the rotary at the intersection of Goldfields Highway, Lane Street & Anzac Drive, Boulder (H403); and the rotary at the intersection of North West Coastal Highway and Chapman Valley Road, Geraldton (H407).

Summary of Classifications and Numbers

In summary, the classifications of roads are their numbers are:





- Ordinary


Still in use


- Ramps

000H5xx to 000H8xx

Still in use


- Rotaries


Still in use

Main Road



Still in use

Secondary Road



No longer in use

What is control of access?

Under Section 28 of the Main Roads Act 1930, the Governor, under recommendation from the Commissioner for Main Roads, has the power to proclaim any classified road, or part of a classified road, subject to control of access. This is equivalent to the ‘motorway’ classification in New South Wales or the ‘Limited-Access Road’ classification in Tasmania.

A proclamation under Section 28 of the Act also includes a schedule prescribing the locations where access to or from the road subject to control of access is permitted. Constructing an access or egress point in a location other than those described is criminal offence.

Compensation is payable to adjacent land owners where the proclamation of control of access has a detrimental effect on their property value.

Historical Notes

The original legislation controlling roads in Western Australia was the Main Roads Act 1926, which was a hastily drafted piece of legislation introduced primarily because of the need to organise the expenditure of Commonwealth Government road grants. This initial Act contained provision for the proclamation of only ‘Main Roads’ or ‘Developmental Roads’ and, in general, did not give the Main Roads Board power over roads within Perth metropolitan area.

The initial Act had significant teething problems and a change of Government in 1930 resulted in the current legislation, the Main Roads Act 1930, being drafted and assented to. The new Act changed administrative arrangements, such as replacing the Main Roads Board with a Commissioner for Main Roads, but it did not change the classifications. For the first 46 years of its operation, the Act still only provided for the proclamation of ‘Main Roads’ and ‘Developmental Roads’.

On 1 July 1976 a new system of road classification was introduced via the Main Roads Act Amendment Act 1975, the first comprehensive review of the status of Western Australia’s roads since 1926. The old system had originally provided only two classifications – ‘main road’ and ‘developmental road’ – and a further classification of ‘controlled access road’ was added in 1952. By the mid 1970s the use of WA’s roads had grown and changed so much that this system was unworkable and the Commonwealth’s decision to fund the National Highways had to be recognised. Thus, after extensive study, a new classification system was introduced providing three categories – ‘highways’, ‘main roads’ and ‘secondary roads’ the latter category being the responsibility of local authorities.

Secondary Roads were phased out as part of a review of the State Road Network in 1995 - a proclamation in the Government Gazette dated 11 August 1995 decommissioned all Secondary Roads and subsequently reproclaimed some as Main Roads. Why Secondary Roads were phased out is something I was unable to find out from correspondence with Main Roads Western Australia, but I presume it had to do with the allocation of responsibility between the State Government and local authorities on these roads.


  • Department for Planning and Infrastructure. 2006. Creation of A Road. Perth, DPI.
  • Edmonds, L., 1997, The Vital Link: A History of Main Roads Western Australia 1926-1996, Perth: University of Western Australia Press.
  • Main Roads Act 1930
  • Personal communication with Main Roads Western Australia

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