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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 63· No. 6 > An Australian Road Review

May/June 2000
Vol. 63· No. 6

An Australian Road Review

by Bonnie L. Harper-Lore

In November 1999, I was a keynote speaker at an Australian national conference on transport corridor management. Speaking at the conference gave me the opportunity to take a 2,500-kilometer road trip while I was in Australia.

As the roadside vegetation coordinator for the Federal Highway Administration, I was eager to learn why and how Australia appears to do better conservation work on their highway systems, and the conference coordinators made arrangements for me to speak with representatives of the highway departments of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria and with several shire (county) roadway engineers.

To understand the Australian perspective of vegetation management, you need to know that:

  • Australia is a young country with the population of California (about 17 million), and although it is a large country - only slightly smaller than the contiguous 48 states of the United States - most of the people live along the coast.
  • Like the United States, Australia was primarily settled by Europeans.
  • Some of the Australian landscape has been cleared for agricultural purposes.
  • Aussies watch and seem to learn from our past.
  • Australian state highway departments have the same safety and functional constraints that we do, along with greater fire protection and moving stock concerns.

In the state of Victoria alone, their roadsides contain 25 percent of all their endangered species and 45 percent of their remaining native grasslands.

Because of these facts, their state and county roadsides look much different than ours. In the previously forested regions, the regenerated roadside woodlands are conspicuous. Large trees are allowed to grow closer to the pavement. The Aussies seem to value their "road reserves" and strive to protect roadside environmental integrity.

This article highlights some of my observations.

Roadsides Conservation Advisory Committee

The Roadsides Conservation Advisory Committee (RCAC) is an interagency partnership, which was formed in 1975. Its prime goal is to protect reserves. Road reserves are defined as "the total strip of land reserved for transportation purposes." The reserves include both the road formation and roadsides. This holistic approach includes a look at the travel function, roadside uses, and the surprising abundance of remnant native plant communities within the reserves.

Just like in our country, these "remnants" are not pristine after highway construction. Because the construction happened long ago when adjacent land was not developed, often native seed in the soil and adjacent soils reestablished themselves, reflecting preconstruction plant communities.

To protect these rare plants and wildlife habitats, RCAC developed a vegetation inventory assessment procedure. Once the reserves, including roadsides and rights of way, are inventoried, each segment is rated according to low, medium, or high conservation value. This rating is then matched with an appropriate management plan - segment by segment.

These ratings are also considered in future construction plans. A high conservation value can mean designing an alternative route to protect the valuable segment.

Consequently, management and construction planning are based on strong, defensible environmental decisions. This is a stronger level of detail than we reach in our own Environmental Impact Statements.

Roadside Handbooks

Roadside handbooks have been written by many states and shires based on RCAC's conservation work. The 32-page handbooks are small, contain many graphics, and provide the basic guidelines for construction and maintenance crews.

The construction instructions include: (1) Keep machinery and stockpiles on cleared land. (2) Avoid tidying up vegetation. (3) Clean down machinery.

Some of the maintenance guidelines are: (1) Enforce the environmental code of practice for workers. (2) Locate firebreaks on cleared land. (3) Use only the machinery best suited to the job.

These common sense guidelines are simple to follow and minimize environmental impacts.

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