NSW’s Transition To An Alpha-Numeric Route Numbering System!

Today the NSW Transport Minister announced that NSW would finally be transition to the Alpha-Numeric route number system across the state. There is some information in here that most people won’t know and that the Roads Minister and opposition hasn’t told anyone about. I appreciate that you and nearly everyone else in NSW probably doesn’t care about this, but I’m hoping that the rest of this message will at least justify why they are doing this and why it matters. I will admit now that I am very nerdy in this area, but everyone has their little area of nerdiness!

The Current/Past System

NSW already has a route numbering system (as does Australia, although not a national one), but it’s confusing and few people use it (they instead either use the name of the road, or just make up a name or number to suit themselves, often based on very outdated information). There are 4 different route markers in use in NSW today and 1 previous one that existed for a while but was abolished.

1. National Highways – These routes have a Green and Gold pointed shield and are major routes of national significance that the Federal Government funds. These include roads such as the Hume Highway, the New England Highway etc. The key point of these were that the Federal Government funded. These didn’t exist until 1974.

A National Highway Shield

A National Highway Shield

2. National Routes – These routes have a Black & White pointed shield and these are the rest of the routes tat are of national significance, but weren’t important enough to be covered under the federal government funding. This system started in 1954 and initally, all major highways were marked using this shield, until 1974 when the really important ones got upgraded from National Routes to National Highways and got the Green and Gold Shield to replace the Black & White one. Current roads that have the National Route shield today include the Pacific Highway north of Newcastle, the Great Western Highway west of Lapstone, the Southern Freeway from Waterfall to south of Woolngong and the Princes Highway south of Woolngong.

A National Route Shield

A National Route Shield

3. State Routes – These routes have a Blue & White rounded shield and these are all of the major roads that the State government wishs to assign a route number to (I’m not 100% sure, but I even think it’s possible that these are the roads that the State Government funds as opposed to the rest of the roads that the Local Government funds). These routes came into existance at various points in time between 1960 and 1997 depending on State, but no longer exist in SA, TAS or in Victoria (except Metro Melbourne). Current roads that are State Routes in Sydney include parts of Victoria Road, parts of Windsor Road etc and in regional NSW include roads like the Summerland Way and the Golden Highway.

A State Route Shield

A State Route Shield

4. Metroads – These are special. These routes have a Blue & White Hexagon shaped symbol. Sydney and Brisbane both introduced these routes (Sydney in 1993 and Brisbane copied in 1995). These only exist around Metro Sydney & Brisbane and are reserved for IMPORTANT roads. The idea was that tourists in these cities could just “Follow the numbers” (from 1-10 in Sydney, although 8 was never used and 1-6 in Brisbane) to get across the city and suburbs. A number of existing State Routes and Freeway Routes were changed in 1993 to form these new Metroads (just like what’s happening today), although personally I don’t understand why the government ever implemented these, considering TAS, VIC & SA were rolling out the newer Alpha-Numeric system (the one NSW is switching to) at the same time as these Metroads were rolled out. Examples of Metroads today include the M2, M4 & M5 Freeways, Ryde Road, parts of the Princes & Pacific Highways in Metro Sydney, parts of Pennant Hills Road, King Georges Road, Mona Vale Road and Pittwater road up in the Northern Beaches.

A Metroad Shield

A Metroad Shield

5. Freeways Routes – These routes had a special rounded shield with the word Freeway on it and the letter F and a number in it (e.g F1, F2 all the way through to F8). These routes only came into existance in 1973 and by 1980, the government had decided to ditch them and stop putting signs up for them because they just duplicated the existing National Highway, National Route and State Routes systems. By the time Metroads were introduced in the 1993, this system had been dead for 13 years and nearly all the signs were removed.

A Freeway Shield

A Freeway Shield

The Issues

So with those 4 route marking systems in place, some issues occured.

1. Every time the Federal Government decided to take control of or stop funding a National Highway, technically all those Green and Gold signs would have to be replaced. They obviously never got around to doing this, so the Green and Gold markers started to lose their meaning. The new system designates the type of road that the user is driving on, not who funds it, so changing route numbers won’t need to occur again unless a road has major upgrades done to it, which probably means they’ll be getting new signs anyway.

2. The government did a botchy job implementing the existing system. Whenever I go new places, I often see a sign that has the incorrect route number on it and I have lots of these photos on my computer. The various State government just have done a fairly botchy job at putting all these signs up and if they run out of one type of shield, they just put another one up that’s incorrect, probably because most people won’t notice. The people putting up signs around Tamworth must have all been stoned, because there are just so many incorrect signs up there. They’ve used Metroad symbols for certain roads when Metroads have never ever existed outside of Sydney & Brisbane. I’m not the only one who takes photos of this stuff, there are entire sites on the internet dedicated to it.

3. Apart from the National Highway system, the states were all doing their own thing regarding route numbers for state roads. It was just inconsistant, as is everything we give state governments, because they can never agree on anything! The USA has a national system, Canada has a national system, NZ has a national system, most of Europe and the UK/Ireland have a common system across countries (called the Alpha-Numeric system) and yet, Australia can’t agree on a system between states?

4. The Alpha-Numeric system came to Australia and it is simply a better system, one that was already in use internationally. In 1980 Tasmania decided to convert all of their State Routes into Alpha-Numeric routes (with the exception of 1 route due to some stupidity from the Federal Government at the time). Victoria and South Australia followed Tasmania’s lead in the 1990s and now South Australia has completely implemented the system (there are A, B, C, D & M roads) and Melbourne has also implenented the system (there are A, B, C & M routes there), with the exception of some State & National Routes around the Metro area which they never changed, but might eventually. In 2000, Queensland started to implement this system when we did a MAJOR upgrade of the Pacific Highway to the Gold Coast. This road is now known as the M1 or Pacific Motorway. Since 2005, many other roads around Brisbane and around QLD have been updated, although the Queensland Government has botched several parts of this and the rollout has kind of just halted, so now we have a dodgy mix of the old and new systems. I really hate the Queensland Government sometimes. WA & the NT haven’t really got around to doing this yet, but will eventually.

The Rollout Process

So with the history done, I should probably detail some of the rollout process. The NSW Government started the process of changing all the route numbers back in 2004, so I’m not exactly sure why they decided to come out today and announce this big change, that’s actually been happening since 2004. I also call bullsh*t on the opposition’s comments about this saying that it is a bad idea, because THEY were quietly working on this change for SEVEN YEARS before they were thrown out of office.

The first signs that are a part of this new system were actually revealed to the public in 2005. When the Westlink M7 Motorway opened, instead of changing the route of Metroad 7 away from Pennant Hills Road and various other roads through Liverpool, Smithfield etc and onto the Motorway, they instead made the route number of the Motorway M7 and then just abolished Metroad 7 from south of the M2 & Pennant Hills road intersection. So the only section left of Metroad 7 is the section of Pennant Hills road between Hornsby and the M2.

So from 2005 onwards, whenever signs needed to be replaced, the State Government just put the new Alpha-Numeric route numbers onto the new signs. If you take a drive out to towns such as Cowra, they’ve had these new signs installed for at least 2 years already (probably even longer). What they’ve done in a lot of cases (especially around Sydney) is that they’ve already changed the sign, they’ve just put a coverplate with the old number on top of it, so that when this transition does occur, they just remove a coverplate from the sign and bang, new route number in place. For the rest of the signs that haven’t been replaced yet, they don’t need to replace the whole sign to make the change. All they need to do is install a coverplate with the new number over the old route number on the sign and you’re done!

New Alpha-Numeric Signs, Already In Cobar!

So the bit that confuses me the most about all this is the $20 million figure. Is that figure $20 million that has been spent between 2005 and 2013 during this entire conversion process? Is this $20 million just next year to finish the process? Why is it costing $20 million to simply install small coverplates on road signs? I’m pretty sure a few thousand (even 10 thousand+) pieces of metal with a letter and some numbers on them don’t cost $20 million. I mean, if they’d have asked me, I’d go around installing these coverplates on signs for a years wage of $50,000. It would be a nice way to visit lots of new places through Sydney and rural NSW, plus I’d be fixing something that I care about. I really think the NSW government is getting ripped off somewhere.

I will say though, I will give the NSW government credit for actually planning to do this properly. The Queensland government started doing this, didn’t really announce it to anyone and has kind of stopped 1/2 way through and now our numbering system is even dodgier with a mix of old and new.

Some Extra Thoughts

One of the extra reasons why I think this change is needed is because of the inconsistancy in the names people are giving to these roads. The best examples of the F3 and F6. These DON’T exist anymore. Those route numbers haven’t existed since about 1980. The current route number for the Sydney-Newcastle Frewway (what people call the F3) is National Highway 1 and the current route number for the Southern Freeway (what people seem to call F6) is National Route 1. When people say F3 or F6, they’re using the wrong name.

If I told someone who hadn’t been to Sydney before to drive along the F3, I’m not sure they’d find it easily. With the exception of some signs around the Hornsby end of the Freeway (which are incorrect signs), the signs pointing to the F3 don’t actually use the name F3 in them. They use the word Freeway, the National Highway 1 route symbol and the desination.

A sign for the F3 (Sydney to Newcastle Freeway)

Same with the M2, M4, M5 and what you call the F6. None of those use the names that most people give them on the signs, they use the various Metroad symbols and National Route markers.

A sign for the F6 (Southern Freeway)

A sign for the M5 (South-Western Motorway)

A sign for the Warringah Freeway

A sign for the M2 (Hills Motorway)

A sign for the M2 (Hills Motorway)

A sign for the M4 (Western Motorway)

The exception is the M7. It got the new route marker when it was opened and so it when you say M7, the signs actually have the M7 symbol on them!

A sign for Westlink M7

So yea, by switching to this new system, all route number symbols will match the signposted names and this should make things a lot more consistant. Hopefully it will also encourage people to stop using the wrong names that were abolished 30 over years ago.

Anyway, I’ll conclude now. This is a very long piece of writing, but hopefully it explains what is happening and why I believe it’s important. I do agree that actually fixing the roads in Sydney is important (I’ve got a lot to say about that too), but if the State Government had done this cheaply ($500,000 instead of $20 million), I don’t think this would have been a big issue. I really am concerned about what they’re paying for pieces of metal if it costs them $20 million to do this.

TL;DR Version (Too Long; Didn’t Read Version)

  • The current system in NSW has 4 different route markers which all have various histories of where they came from and what they mean.
  • The current system is fairly useless and the rollout I personally think has been botched by the government in several different ways
  • We’re one of the few countries that doesn’t have a standardised route numbering system across the entire country, where each state does their own thing. The US, Canada, NZ, UK & most of Europe have consistant systems across each country (and in the case of Europe, multiple countries).
  • The rollout has actually been occuring since 2005 (which means the opposition has been making BS statements about this being a bad idea) and is currently in place in some rural NSW towns.
  • For many parts of Sydney, the system could be rolled out very quickly since the new signs are already in place and have been for ages, they’re just covered up with checkerplates still showing the old number.
  • The $20 million figure means that this program isn’t the problem, it’s that they’re overpaying for it by $19 million I reckon. They don’t have to print entirely new signs, just little checkerplates to bolt on top of existing signs, so why is that costing $20 million? I’d do it for them cheaper if they wanted!
  • Finally, the existing signs make little sense for people who haven’t been to NSW or Sydney before. When people use terms like the F3, firstly they’re using a name that was abolished 30 years ago, but secondly, F3, F6, M2, M4 and M5 aren’t actually written on most signs, the official names are. Changing to the Alpha-numeric system means the route number can match the name and everything makes more sense.