Background to Establishment of the Country Roads Board
By 1910 it had become increasingly apparent that there was a need for a central roads authority to take over responsibility from the Board of Lands and Works (VA 744) for the care and management of the main roads of the state. Up to this time there was a lack of co-operation between the agencies with operational responsibility for roads, the Roads and Bridges Branch of the Public Works Department (VA 669) and local municipalities, in the construction and maintenance of main roads. Expenditure of state funds was without proper supervision or a thorough investigation into actual needs. The absence of a systematic policy, as well as a lack of funds, had resulted in Victorian roads being in a deplorable condition. At this time the use of the motor car accentuated the demands for better roads.
As a result of these needs the Country Roads Act 1912 (No.2415) was proclaimed in 1913 providing for the establishment of the Country Roads Board as a central road authority with responsibility for those roads within the State considered to be main roads.
Functions of the Board
Initial functions of the Board, as defined by the Act, were:
- to ascertain which roads should be main roads,
- to ascertain the most effective methods of road construction and maintenance,
- to ascertain the deviations in existing roads or new roads which would facilitate communication and improve conditions for traffic.
After an initial investigation by the Board construction guidelines were established and the letting of construction contracts, either directly by the Board or by municipal councils, proceeded by circa 1915.
Although the Country Roads Board was established in 1913 to co-ordinate the construction and maintenance of main roads and bridges the Public Works Department (VA 669), through its Roads and Bridges Section, continued to have a role in the construction of roads and bridges. The final report of the Royal Commission on the State Public Service in 1917 indicates that the Public Works Department confined its operations chiefly to by-roads, tourist roads and special roads, although some overlapping with the Board could occur. The report, which made no mention of bridge construction by the Public Works Department, proposed the amalgamation of the Roads and Bridges Section with the Country Roads Board. It is not clear exactly when the Public Works Department ceased to exercise any responsibility for road construction. Therefore, despite the establishment of the Country Roads Board, the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) presumably continued to have some statutory responsibility for roads, and possibly bridges, until the Country Roads Board assumed full authority (by 1936?).
Extensions of Responsibilities
At various times other types of roads were proclaimed under legislation and subsequently came within the responsibility of the Country Roads Board.
The Development Roads Act 1918 provided for the declaration of 'Developmental Roads', roads which would serve to develop any area of land by providing access to a railway station for primary producers.
The Highways and Vehicles Act 1924 provided for the declaration of certain arterial roads as State Highways.
The Tourists' Roads Act 1936 provided for the declaration of roads of sufficient interest or roads leading to tourist resorts or attractions as Tourists' Roads. Construction of tourists' roads had occurred prior to this on an ad hoc basis from at least 1917, through the Tourists' Resorts Committee which functioned within the Department of Public Works (VA 669), however no provisions had existed for maintenance or improvement prior to this Act. The Country Roads Board continued to have responsibility for tourists' roads until 1983 when it was succeeded by the Road Construction Authority (VA 1054).
The Country Roads Act 1956 enabled the Board to construct by-pass roads which became popularly known as freeways.
The Board also exercised some responsibility for other outer-metropolitan roads and, in conjunction with Municipal Councils, for unclassified roads. Other functions of the Board have included:
- inspection and supervision of the construction and maintenance of country bridges,
- control of speed and weight of commercial goods vehicles,
- licensing of country, commercial, passenger vehicles including touring and light motor omnibuses and prescription of routes, under the Motor Omnibus Acts (until 1934 when the Transport Regulation Board (VA 2738) inherited this responsibility),
- collecting on behalf of the Traffic Commission, a body made up of representatives of agencies concerned with traffic management, data on road safety and traffic accidents (until 1971 when this function was inherited by the Road Safety and Traffic Authority (VA 487)).
Following an amendment to the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works Act in 1956 (No. 5982) the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (VA 1007) was vested with responsibility for the construction and maintenance of proclaimed metropolitan bridges and main highways. In July 1974 the Country Roads Board resumed responsibility for such roads and bridges under the provisions of the Metropolitan Bridges Highways and Foreshores Act 1974.
Decentralisation of Administration
Increases in the Board's direct responsibilities and the necessity for the supervision and control of works entrusted to municipalities led the Board in 1926 to adopt a scheme of decentralization. Over time the following ten regional divisions, each headed by a Divisional Engineer, were established: Bairnsdale, Ballarat, Benalla, Bendigo, Dandenong, Geelong, Horsham, Metropolitan, Traralgon and Warnambool. At present only the Ballarat Division has been registered (VA 1021).
Until 1970, the Country Roads Board reported directly to the Minister responsible for Public Works. On 12 June 1970 the Minister for Local Government assumed responsibility for the Country Roads Act, and from 19 May 1973 the Board reported to the Minister for Transport.
Restructuring of Transport Portfolio and Abolition of the Board 1983
In 1982 the administration of the State's transport authorities began to undergo a significant transformation. Under the provisions of the West Gate Bridge Authority (Transfer of Functions) Act 1982, proclaimed on 1 July 1982, responsibility for the functions of the Westgate Bridge Authority were transferred to the Country Roads Board. The following year, on 30 June 1983, the Country Roads Board was succeeded by the Road Construction Authority (VA 1054) established under the provisions of the Transport Act 1983 (No.9921).
Further series may be listed in the List of Holdings (1985 edition, 1994 reprint).