Victorian farmers and an organisation representing rural councils have backed a think tank's call for the federal government to boost funding for country roads by $1 billion next year.
In its latest report, Potholes and pitfalls: how to fix local roads, the Grattan Institute said the gradual erosion of federal funding over the past decade had been "terrible" for local roads.
Grattan Institute Transport and Cities Program director Marion Terrill said an extra $1 billion would mean a 25 per cent boost to what councils spend on road maintenance.
"A billion dollars is only about 10 per cent of what the federal government spent on roads last year," Ms Terrill said.
She said it would take more than money alone and funding should be better targeted, with cleaner lines of accountability from the funding source to the end of the project.
The report recommended the federal government stop favouring densely-populated states with its funding arrangements.
The institute also urged the government to cut back the share of the pool that went to the major city councils that were already self-sufficient.
Councils in 'impossible position'
Grattan Institute Transport and Cities Program associate Natasha Bradshaw said councils were in an "impossible position".
"What we have found is the underspend is much higher in regional and rural areas," she said.
Ms Bradshaw said about three-quarters of all Australian roads were managed by councils, which faced a huge bill to repair roads damaged by last year's floods.
"What we are looking at is what you need to spend, every year, just to maintain the condition the roads are currently in," Ms Bradshaw said.
The prime method of funding was through federal financial assistance grants, with increases based on the consumer price index.
"We know local government costs are growing faster than the general CPI, that's mostly because infrastructure costs have surged so much," she said.
The institute recommended an extra $600 million in financial assistance grants and an extra $400 million for the federal government's Roads to Recovery Program.
Ms Bradshaw said maintenance spending was stagnating, despite increased truck movements causing more damage to roads.
She said councils had shifted their funding focus to social services and environmental protection.
'Could play a game of golf on road'
Mount Wallace beef producer Janene Skidmore lives on the Geelong-Ballan Road and said she could play a game of golf with the number of holes along her road.
Authorities last undertook maintenance work on the road a year ago, but it was again in a poor state.
"It's just falling to pieces, because they do band aid jobs and the trucks are getting bigger, longer and heavier, and the road is just deteriorating."
She said the route was used to cut from Bendigo to Geelong to avoid centres like Bacchus Marsh.
In western Victoria, Garvoc dairy farmer and Moyne Shire councillor Daniel Meade said community satisfaction surveys undertaken by the council indicated it had work to do on its own road network.
"We are certainly trying to address that every year, but if there are options for greater funding, we will be able to get to some of those roads sooner," Cr Meade said.
The shire was responsible for more than 3500 kilometres of roads.
"We would like to think we can put forward a strong case that would warrant funding," he said.
Webber & Chivell Fertilisers managing director Andrew Chivell, Cobden, said poor roads were damaging his trucks, adding 15-20 per cent to his yearly maintenance bill.
"Suspension componentry, cracked bodies, wheel and tyre fatigue are the main issues, but actually trying to stay safe on the roads is the biggest issue," he said.
"That's a near impossible target when you have vehicles coming the other way.
"You just have to hang on and hope for the best."
He said drivers were forced to avoid the potholes, as the impact of hitting them "was so harsh that if you don't get it right, it's 'hang on for the ride'".
"They just throw the vehicles around so much," he said.
Rural Councils Victoria chair Mary-Ann Brown said she was pleased the report was produced by a non-government body.
"It's not an advocacy group like RCV and they have done some really good research, which confirms what many of us know," Cr Brown said.
"It quantifies what sort of investment is needed, to address the issues we are aware of, in terms of roads."
She said she hoped state and federal governments would take note of the findings and act upon them.
"Fixing potholes and road surfaces may not be as particularly politically sexy as some of the big-dollar projects, but it certainly makes a big difference to people's lives in rural areas," Cr Brown said.
'Rural roads are terrible'
Meanwhile, Pepperton Poll Dorset stud principal Roger Trewick, Elmore, said roads in the area were "in a sorry state".
"Local government can't afford to put a lot of money into the roads at the moment, it's going to take federal funding to do it," Mr Trewick said.
He said with harvest underway there would be "extreme pressure" on the roads around the area.
"You are going along and all of a sudden you hit this big pothole that can do damage to a car - we have to replace all tyres on our car, because of the damage that occurred to them," he said.
"But wherever you go in Victoria, rural roads are terrible."
A spokeswoman for Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said the review of the Infrastructure Investment Program considered how the Commonwealth could further support local councils through important road funding programs such as the Roads to Recovery and Black Spot programs.
"We will have more to say about the review's recommendations and the government's response in due course," the spokeswoman said.
In addition to the infrastructure funding provided directly to states and territories, the government has continued its commitment to road funding programs exclusively for local governments with a total of $6.9 billion in funding allocated from 2023-24 to 2026-27.