New roads and roadworks in Australia are falling into disrepair too soon while short warranty periods are allowing contractors to avoid fixing their mistakes.
Australia has “defects liability periods” (DLP) from as little as three months to seven years, but mainly around two years.
This follows a move in Britain to hold road contractors to account for potholes and other road failures from the current two-year period to five years.
Apart from the misuse of taxpayer funds, the lack of decent warranty periods poses a danger to motorcyclists as potholes are a significant hazard for motorcyclists.
Road failure example
Victorian Motorcycle Council chairman Peter Baulch says another example of failed road surfaces is the Peninsula Link Freeway which opened in February 2013.
He says the “whitish discolouration” in this composite photo he supplied is sand and clay from the subsoil under the road being forced up through cracks in the asphalt surface.
“Ultimately these cracked sections will break up completely and become flying missiles as cars and trucks pass over them,” he says.
“To date there has not been any remediation undertaken to halt or repair this problem, which will only get worse, particularly as winter approaches and water penetrates the subsoil.
“It is worth noting that this problem first became visible and noticeable in late 2018; exactly five years after this freeway was opened.”
Rider reps agree
Peter says contractors should definitely be held accountable for failed roadworks and South Australia’s Ride to Review spokesman Tim Kelly agrees that a five-year warranty is “a great idea”.
However, Motorcycle Council of NSW chairman Steve Pearce is concerned about long warranties.
“There would be general contractual obligation to repair defects but I would be surprised if anyone would agree to a guarantee for five years,” Steve says.
It should be noted that any extension to the defects liability period would be likely to result in a higher cost for roadworks contracts.
However, a short warranty and low contract price may be false economics as it would possibly cost a higher rate to get contractors to return to fix faulty roadworks after the warranty period.
Warranty periods in states
We contacted roads departments in all states and territories to ask about their roadworks contract warranty periods.
A NSW Roads and Maritime Services spokesperson says they require all road works to be delivered “defect free, fit for purpose and in accordance with contract requirements and specifications”.
“As per industry practice, contracts also specify a defects liability period during which contractors warrant the works and return to remedy any defects identified.”
They did not specify the warranty period.
“Warranty periods vary across contracts and from maintenance to construction projects,” the spokesperson said.
“The duration and terms of warranty periods are confidential under the respective agreements entered into with Roads and Maritime Services contractors.”
VicRoads Director of Procurement Services, Felicity Roberts, says all their contracts include a defect liability period, which requires any issues arising shortly after a project is complete to be repaired.
“For current contracts, the DLP is between one and two years, depending on the size and scale of the project delivered,” she says.
It is believed there are no current plans to change this time period.
A Queensland Transport and Main Roads spokesperson says most of their construction contracts have a defects liability period of just three months.
“However some major projects may have longer defect periods,” the spokesperson said.
“With any project involving the use of asphalt, the supplier provides an additional warranty of up to two years.
“If additional infrastructure such as service utilities are installed, we generally require these works to be carried out without disturbing the road surface.
“When this isn’t possible we require the installer to warrant the integrity of the site for two years.”
WA Main Roads says their contracts include provisions for the correction of defects caused by poor construction processes.
“The length of the defects liability or corrections period will vary depending on the form of contract, but typically ranges from one year to seven years,” they say.
“In addition to these contractual requirements, Main Roads has resources in place to provide a timely response to maintenance issues on its network, including repairing potholes.”
None of the roads departments was able to provide details of the number of call backs for warranty works “as this information is subject to confidential obligations under relevant contracts”.
In other words, the taxpayer never finds out!
Other states and territories have not yet replied to our request for information.
UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling says their proposed specifications on highway roadworks would demand the contractor returns to bring the road surface back to normal in five years.
“Potholes are the biggest enemy for road users and this government is looking at all options to keep our roads in the best condition,” he says.
“Road surfaces can be made worse by utility companies, so imposing higher standards on repairs will help keep roads pothole-free for longer.”