Australia Road Network

By | November 4, 2022

The Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne.

According to wholevehicles, the roads in Australia are generally good. Motorways and similar roads are mainly found around the major cities. The traffic demand between the major cities is so limited that the routes rarely need to be upgraded to highway standard. There is a 2×2 lane through route between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, which is not entirely a freeway, however. These are the Hume Highway and the Pacific Highway, the ends of which at Sydney and Melbourne are a freeway, such as the Hume Freeway and Pacific Motorway. Elsewhere, the roads are mainly single lane with oncoming traffic, sometimes with 2+1 lanes. There are only a few through paved roads in the Outback. The traffic volumes on the main roads in the interior of Australia are extremely low, often less than 1,000 vehicles per day.

Many roads in the Outback are unpaved. In Queensland these roads are called developmental roads. Often they are just tracks. The quality of dirt roads ranges from well-maintained gravel roads where high speeds are possible, to simple tracks in the Outback. Due to the low rainfall, the unpaved roads are often passable by passenger car, except on remote and barely maintained tracks. In the north of Australia, especially the The Kimberley and Top End and Arnhem Land, unpaved roads are sometimes difficult to pass during the rainy season (November-April).

Road trains are available in many areas of Australia, but road trains with more than 2 trailers are not allowed to operate in all states and cities. The longest road trains with 4 trailers are mainly found in the Outback. Even longer road trains run between mines, often on unpaved roads.

Freeways & Motorways

De Pacific Motorway in Brisbane.

Motorways are variously referred to as freeways or motorways in Australia. In fact, there is no difference in design between the two highways. Motorways are sometimes toll roads.

There are only a few longer highways in Australia. There are networks of freeways and motorways around Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. It is striking that the highways in the major metropolises are often narrow, only in Melbourne are wider highways common. Around Brisbane there is a reasonably adequate motorway network with a few toll tunnels. Sydney’s highway network is quite poorly developed, there is a lot of congestion and journey times in Sydney are longer than in comparable cities in Europe or North America. Sydney is the only city with a complete ring road, but apart from the ring road there are only a few short highways.

Of the 5 major cities, Adelaide has the least developed road network, with only a few short highways that do not form a network, as they are not interconnected. Adelaide also has no ring road, all through traffic has to go through the center. Adelaide has wide city boulevards to accommodate this traffic. Adelaide was special because until 2014 the Southern Expressway was the only highway in the world that functioned as a switch lane. Perth has a small network of highways, which is quite adequate. Perth and Adelaide are the only major Australian cities without toll roads.

Some highways extend beyond the major cities in eastern Australia. From Brisbane the Pacific Motorway runs south and from Sydney the Hume Freeway runs south west and the Sydney-Newcastle Freeway north. From Melbourne, the Princes Freeway and Western Freeway run a little further outside the urban area. The Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne is fully equipped with 2×2 lanes, but is not grade separated throughout, so it is not a true motorway.

Construction costs

Striking in Australia are the very high costs in road construction, for all types of projects. Multi-billion dollar budgets are not uncommon for urban projects, but even simple projects outside cities have high costs, with widenings regularly costing more than A$100 million per kilometer without involving major bridges or tunnels. For example, the 6-kilometer widening of the Bruce Highway in Queensland south of the Sunshine Coast cost a whopping A$929 million. The cost of constructing Melbourne’s North East Beltway was estimated at $16.5 billion in 2017 for the construction of 9 kilometers of new highway and the widening of 12 kilometers of existing highway.

Toll roads

A number of toll roads have been built around the major metropolises. There are several toll tunnels in Sydney and Brisbane. The main roads between the major cities are toll-free.

National Routes

The National Routes were previously the major thoroughfares between the states and were marked on a white shield with a black number. This was the first nationwide numbering system and was introduced in 1954. However, it has been phased out since 1997 in favor of alphanumeric road numbering. The system was designed by the Conference of State Road Authorities (COSRA).

National Highways

Related to the National Routes are the National Highways, a network of federally funded roads in Australia. These roads were signposted with a green shield with golden numbers. The numbering was more or less taken from the National Routes, so there was no real distinction between National Routes and National Highways. The plan for the National Highways was established in 1973-1974. An important task was to pave these roads, which was far from standard in northern, western and central Australia even in the 1970s. Work started almost immediately to asphalt the National Highways, which was largely completed in the 1980s. The last major National Highway to be asphalted was the Victoria Highwayin the western Northern Territory, early 1990s. The National Highways are being phased out together with the National Routes in favor of the alphanumeric road numbering that was introduced in 1997. However, in some states, alphanumeric road numbering is still not implemented.

State Routes

State Routes were introduced from 1960 and were a second class of roads that had regional importance, but not so important as to be National Routes or National Highways. These are signposted with the well-known blue and white shield. Tasmania was the first state to introduce the system in 1960, followed by the Melbourne region from 1965. For a long time, however, there were only State Routes in and around Melbourne, and not elsewhere in Victoria, leading them to be referred to as Metro Routes in that area.. After that, all states introduced State Routes, even the Northern Territory. In South Australiathey were only signposted in the border area with other states. The state did not have its own State Routes. The State Routes have been phased out since 1997 in favor of alphanumeric road numbering.

Alphanumeric road numbering

The alphanumeric road numbering, simply road numbers with a prefix M, A, B and C, was agreed as the new standard in Australia from 1997. However, its introduction took a long time in some states, so that several road number systems were in use for a long time. In Tasmania, following the British example, alphanumeric road numbers have been used since 1979. Victoria began introducing alphanumeric road numbers directly from 1997, except in the Melbourne area. South Australia followed shortly after from 1998. From 2000, Queensland started introducing alphanumeric road numbers, but progress was very slow. In 2013 the renumbering of roads in New South Walesofficially introduced. The Northern Territory has sporadically changed road numbers, but only when signposts had to be replaced. Western Australia is the only state that has not yet started renumbering.

Maximum speed

The Great Northern Highway in Western Australia, where the speed limit is 110 km/h.

Road management

De Eyre Highway over de Nullarbor Plain.

The states are responsible for the construction of roads. The federal government has grant programs for roads of national importance (The National Land Transport Network, formerly Nation Building Program, before Auslink, before that National Highway program) and for tackling accident-prone areas.

The names of the road authorities in the various states are as follows:

  • New South Wales: Transport for NSW
  • Victoria: Department of Transport
  • South Australia: Department for Infrastructure and Transport (DIT)
  • Queensland: Department of Transport and Main Roads
  • Western Australia: Main Roads Western Australia
  • Tasmania: Department of State Growth
  • Northern Territory: Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics
  • Australian Capital Territory: Transport Canberra & City Services

The umbrella federal organization is called the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. Before 2007, the federal ministry was called DOTARS (Department of Transport and Regional Services).

The names of Australian ministries change frequently, both at the national and state levels, with no names remaining the same in 2020 as they were before 2010.

Road numbering

In Australia the road numbering is determined per state or territory, there is therefore no national road numbering policy, although there were national highways that were numbered in one system throughout the country. However, this national numbering system is being phased out in favor of an alphanumeric system with A, B and C numbers. However, this happens by state and territory, which means that some states are much further along with the phasing out than others, making the numbering system in Australia messy and cluttered. Nationally, therefore, two systems are in use, the old system of national routes and national highways, and the new alphanumeric system. It differs per state/territory to what extent this has been implemented. It is intended that the National Highway 1if any route is not given an alphanumeric number.


In the alphanumeric system, the following prefixes are assigned;

  • M for dual carriageways which are called motorways in some states but are not always completely grade separated.
  • A for major highways between states and major cities.
  • B for regional roads.
  • C for secondary roads.


Although individual states already used older administrative road numbering, a first attempt at national road numbering was made in the 1950s. At that time, a system was designed of National Routes that also appeared on the signage. The system was based on a grid, with even numbers going east-west and odd numbers going north-south. The exception to the rule was Route 1, a route that circles the entire country along the coast. The even numbers in this system increased from south to north, while the odd numbers increased from east to west.

In addition to the National Routes system, individual states also started putting their own road numbers on the signs. All states (except South Australia) had so-called State Routes and important roads around the major cities were signposted as Metroad (for metropolitan road). Although there was no national uniformity, the route signs looked the same everywhere. State routes were marked with blue shields and white numbers. Metroads were on hexagons pointing up with the number in dark blue. Tasmania was the exception to the rule. That made use of a system of prefix + number that was put on the signs in golden yellow.

In 1997 the road authorities of all states and DOTARS signed an agreement to sign roads in a uniform manner from now on. The old National Routes system was scrapped in favor of a prefix + number (alphanumeric) system. The number would no longer indicate whether it was a national road or a state route. However, the prefix would indicate the quality of the road. M stands for highways, A for well-developed through roads and so the quality of the roads decreases to C.

This alphanumeric system has not yet been implemented in all states. Tasmania had the system in place since 1979, South Australia and Victoria followed immediately after 1997, but New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory are only implementing it sparsely. Nothing has yet been heard about renumbering from Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. In other words, Australia currently has two parallel numbering systems.

While the idea of ​​the new system was to unify road numbering, the question is legitimate whether that goal will be achieved. Individual states have seized upon the abandonment of the National Routes system to introduce their own numbering system. As a result, some states are still somewhat stuck with the original national grid, while other states are drawing a completely different plan. More than once these days, roads on the border between states change numbers. Only on routes that were part of the old National Highway program are states required to consult with each other to ensure consistent cross-border numbering. And even in those states that have more or less kept the original grid, the old numbers don’t actually fit in between the new ones;

Partly due to the imperfections in road numbering, Australians actually usually refer to their roads by the name given to them instead of the number. Road names are also prominently displayed on maps and signage.


Road numbering by state/territory
state/territory Alphanumerics National Highway
National Highway
National Route State Route Metroad Tourist Drive
Australian Capital Territory And Nee Nee Nee Nee Nee And
New South Wales And Nee Nee Nee Nee Nee And
Northern Territory And Nee And And And Nee Nee
Queensland And And Nee And And And And
South Australia And And Nee Nee Nee Nee And
Tasmania And Nee And Nee Nee Nee Nee
Victoria And Nee Nee And And Nee And
Western Australia Nee Nee And And And Nee And

States and Territories

In the overview below, all roads per state or territory are included.

Australia States and Territories
ACT • New South Wales • Northern Territory • Queensland • South Australia • Tasmania • Victoria • Western Australia

Road safety

In 2018 there were 1,140 road deaths in Australia, or 45 per 1 million inhabitants. Australian road safety is thus comparable to the average for the European Union and Canada, and slightly better than New Zealand.


In the field of signage, a national guideline applies, but differences are visible between the individual states. The Australian signage comes across as American:

  • Yellow signs with black text or image for warnings
  • White and red signs for do’s and don’ts
  • Green signs with white letters for references to places or districts
  • Blue signs with white letters or images for amenities
  • Brown signs with white letters or pictures for tourist references.

The font used on Australian signs is also the US Interstate.


De Burke Developmental Road in Queensland.

Australian English is spoken in Australia, which is somewhat similar in pronunciation to British English, but also uses American English elements in terms of language, as well as terms that are only used in Australia.

  • Highways in Australia are usually called a freeway, unlike New Zealand or the United Kingdom. The term motorway is mainly used for toll roads.
  • a roadhouse is a gas station/truck stop. This term is only used in Australia.
  • One speaks of trucks or semi-trailers, and not of a lorry or articulated lorry.
  • a main street in Australia is called Main Street, not High Street.
  • a sidewalk is called a footpath in Australia and not a sidewalk (US) or pavement (UK).
  • a parking lot is called a car park and not a parking lot.
  • a turn signal is called an indicator or blinker and not a turn signal (UK).
  • One speaks of a central business district (CBD) and not of a downtown (US).
  • A Developmental Road is a road in the Outback that is slowly being developed/improved. This term is only used in Australia.
  • a track or Outback track is a type of poor quality dirt road in the Outback.
  • a road train is a truck with more than 2 semi-trailers or trailers. Although long trucks are common in many places, road trains are only found in Australia.

Australia Road Network