Men in hi-viz clothing standing around a roadworks site doing very little is an all too common sight. I have previously written about the staggering costs and delays of the Pacific Highway upgrades, but most recently a project on the opposite end of the scale made me want to revisit the subject.
Brunswick Heads is a lovely little township just north of swanky Byron Bay, half an hour south of the Queensland border. Situated at the mouth of the Brunswick River, beautifully protected from the sea-breeze and occasional storm, it is home to an eclectic mix of artists, retirees, and people of all ages opting for the laid back lifestyle. The centre of town is no more than a few blocks, with cafes, quaint speciality stores, the obligatory news agent, an IGA and of course the pub as the inevitable focal point.
Just down from the pub is The Terrace, a 135 meter stretch of road that forms the natural border between the town and the rivers edge. Like most roads in Byron Shire – the pothole capital of the world – it has long been in need of repair, and it now has been, with shiny new bitumen fit for a racetrack.
Over the past 3 ½ weeks the road has been closed, of course, as the local shop owners have had front row seats to a spectacle of inefficiencies. Each day has seen 10 – 12 men and an assortment of machines getting the job done. Slowly. Very slowly. At the time of writing, they are still applying the finishing touches.
According to one shop owner I spoke to, who was there every day attending to his store with very few customers, his frustration palpable: “It is not that I don’t appreciate that this is getting done, but how it could possibly take so many men doing so very little for so long, literally standing around doing nothing for most of the time. This could and should have been done in a week”. He added how he was also baffled at observing no less than four lollipop men guarding both ends of a road that was closed to traffic, as well as the motel car park that was not accessible. All day, every day.
Exactly how this particular series of cracks, holes and indentations was chosen for an upgrade is not quite clear, but according to the Byron Shire Council Facebook page, the cost has been $380,000. Or almost $3,000 per meter.
Notwithstanding the apparent lack of urgency amongst those doing the job, that seems like a lot of money. So I did the numbers. 12 men every day for 8 hours for 3.5 weeks (18 days), using hourly figures from the Fairwork Australia website ( at $28 per hour), adding a liberal loading of 25%, that’s $60,000. Roadwork machines are not cheap, of course, around $ 1,500 per day on average. According to my shop owner friend there were up to 3 of those in operation on the ‘busy’ days, so that’s another $80,000. At the very most.
Gravel and asphalt and other sundry material would be no more than $25,000. Allowing for temporary fencing, a portaloo, insurance, contingencies, planning and project management, with my most generous back-of-the-envelope calculations, the cost should still have been less than $200,000.
So here is a project that could have been done in a week or so with good management and efficient utilisation of those doing the job. It did take 3 ½ weeks (and counting) which by my calculations should have cost no more than $200,000. Yet ratepayers have been charged almost twice that.
No wonder our country is going broke. In high visibility.