National Highway (Australia)

The National Highway (part of the National Land Transport Network) is a system of roads connecting all mainland states and territories of Australia, and is the major network of highways and motorways connecting Australia's capital cities and major regional centres.

Road sign of the National Highway.
National Highway Sign located on the Stuart Highway near Darwin, listing distances to key locations on this highway.
Map of the National Highway System



National funding for roads began in the 1920s, with the federal government contributing to major roads managed by the state and territory governments.[1]:21 However, the Federal Government did not completely fund any roads until 1974,[1]:21–23 when the Whitlam Government introduced the National Roads Act 1974.[2] Under the act, the states were still responsible for road construction and maintenance, but were fully compensated for money spent on approved projects.[2]:S7

In 1977, the 1974 Act was replaced by the State Grants (Roads) Act 1977, which contained similar provisions for the definition of "National Highways".[3]

In 1988, the National Highway became redefined under the Australian Land Transport Development (ALTD) Act 1988,[4] which had various amendments up to 2003. The 1988 Act was largely concerned with funding road development in cooperation with the state governments. The federal transport minister defined the components of the National Highway, and also a category of "Road of National Importance" (RONI), with federal funding implications. Section 10.5 of the Act required the state road authorities to place frequent, prominent, signs on the National Highways and RONI projects funded by the federal government.[5]

In 2005, the National Highway became the National Land Transport Network, under the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005. The criteria for inclusion in the network was similar to the previous legislation, but expanded to include connections to major commercial centres, and inter-modal facilities.[6] All of the roads included in National Land Transport Network as of 2005 were formally defined by regulation in October 2005.[7] The Minister for Transport may alter the list of roads included in the network. Three amendments to the scheduled list of roads have been made, in February 2007, September 2008 and February 2009.[8] The third variation,[9] published in February 2009, is current as of September 2012.

Under AusLink a program that operated between July 2004 and 2009, the AusLink National Network had additional links, both road and rail. The Federal Government encouraged funding from state, territory and local governments and public–private partnerships to upgrade the network and requires state government funding contributions on parts of the network, especially for new links. For example, the Pacific Highway and the Calder Highway are part of the National Network, yet new projects are being funded 50/50 by federal and state governments. State contributions (generally 20%) are required on some sections of the old network near major cities.

Roads and routesEdit

The various superseded Acts defined National Highways as roads, or a series of connected roads, that were the primary connection between two State or Territory capital cities, as well as between Brisbane and Cairns, and between Hobart and Burnie.[2]:S4 The Melbourne-Devonport ferry route is sometimes described colloquially as the 'sea highway', providing a link from Tasmania to the rest of the country by road.[citation needed]

The 16,000 kilometres (9,900 mi) of roads included in the original National Highway system had large variations in road quality. Some sections were no more than dirt tracks, whilst others were four lane dual carriageways. While 12,496 kilometres (7,765 mi) was sealed, there was also 3,807 kilometres (2,366 mi) worth of gravel roads. The National Highway was gradually improved, with the sealed proportion increased from 73 per cent in the early 1970s to 88 per cent by 1981. The sealing works were completed in 1989.[1]:21–23

Since 2005, National Highways were no longer defined in federal legislation. However, the routes were marked with a National Highway route marker up until 2013. These markers have "NATIONAL" printed in the upper portion of the shield, above the highway's number. The shield, text and number are coloured yellow while the background is dark green – the national colours of Australia. In 2014, the route makers retained the national colours, although the word "NATIONAL" was removed in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and parts of both Queensland and Victoria.

National Highway numbering originates from the earlier national route network. Many of the routes that are now National Highways with the signature green and gold shields, continue beyond the official National Highway as the black and white shielded national routes. Certain stretches of the National Highways have "A" and "M" tag on their shields; particularly those in Victoria and South Australia. They have completely revised their route numbering, basing it on the British M, A, B, C classifications. These states have retained the original National Highway numbering and shield decal, having added the appropriate M and A classification.

List of roads on the National Land Transport NetworkEdit

Former National Highway routesEdit

The following roads were part of the original National Highway network. Most are still signposted with National Highway route markers. In 2013, New South Wales introduced a new alphanumeric route numbering system, which no longer includes national highways.

Route Former route Road name Destinations Distance (km)
Canberra to Sydney:
National Highway 23
Federal Highway Canberra to ACT–NSW border 73
National Highway 23
ACT–NSW border to Yarra
National Highway 31
Hume Highway/Hume Motorway Yarra to Sydney 187
260 kilometres
Canberra to Melbourne:
National Highway 25
Barton Highway Canberra to ACT–NSW border 52
National Highway 25
ACT–NSW border to Yass
National Highway 31
Hume Highway Yass to Albury 294
National Highway M31
Hume Freeway Wodonga to Melbourne (Thomastown) 290
National Highway M80
Western Ring Road Melbourne 15
651 kilometres
Sydney to Melbourne:
National Highway 31
Hume Motorway/Hume Highway Sydney to Albury 539
National Highway M31
Hume Freeway Wodonga to Melbourne (Thomastown) 290
National Highway M80
Western Ring Road Melbourne 15
844 kilometres
Sydney to Adelaide:
National Highway 31
Hume Motorway/Hume Highway Sydney to Tarcutta 392
National Highway 20
Sturt Highway Tarcutta to Buronga 597
National Highway A20
Mildura to Hewett 370
Gawler Bypass Hewett to Willaston 3
National Highway M20
Northern Expressway Willaston to Waterloo Corner 23
National Highway A1
Port Wakefield Road Waterloo Corner to Adelaide 13
1403 kilometres
Sydney to Brisbane:
National Highway 1
Pacific Motorway Sydney to Newcastle 127
National Highway 15
New England Highway Newcastle to Belford 581
Belford to Wallangarra
A15/ National Highway 15
Wallangarra to Warwick 95
Cunningham Highway Warwick to Yamato 127
National Highway 15
Yamanto to Riverview
Ipswich Motorway Riverview to Wacol 14
Wacol to Brisbane
944 kilometres
Melbourne to Brisbane:
National Highway M80
Western Ring Road Melbourne 15
National Highway M31
Hume Freeway Melbourne (Thomastown) to Seymour 75
National Highway M39
Goulburn Valley Freeway Seymour to Shepparton 59
National Highway A39
Goulburn Valley Highway Shepparton to Tocumwal 110
National Highway 39
Newell Highway Tocumwal to Goondiwindi 1062
National Highway A39
Leichhardt Highway Goondiwindi to North Goondiwindi 21
Gore Highway North Goondiwindi to Toowoomba 202
National Highway A2
Warrego Highway Toowoomba to Brassall 97
Brassall to Ipswich
National Highway 15
Ipswich Motorway Ipswich to Wacol 14
Wacol to Brisbane
1655 kilometres
Melbourne to Adelaide:
National Highway M80
Western Ring Road Melbourne 15
National Highway M8
Western Freeway Melbourne (Deer Park) to Ballarat 115
National Highway A8
Western Highway Ballarat to VIC/SA Border 314
National Highway A8
Dukes Highway VIC/SA Border to Tailem Bend 189
National Highway A1
Princes Highway Tailem Bend to Murray Bridge 25
National Highway M1
South Eastern Freeway Murray Bridge to Adelaide 74
719 kilometres
Adelaide to Darwin:
National Highway A1
Main North Road Adelaide to Gepps Cross tba
Port Wakefield Road Gepps Cross to Snowtown tba
Princes Highway Snowtown to Port Augusta tba
National Highway A87
Stuart Highway Port Augusta to SA/NT Border tba
National Highway 87
Stuart Highway SA/NT Border to Daly Waters tba
National Highway 1
Stuart Highway Daly Waters to Darwin tba
3,035 kilometres
Perth to Adelaide:
National Highway 94
Great Eastern Highway Perth to Redcliffe tba
Great Eastern Highway Bypass Redcliffe to Hazelmere tba
Roe Highway Hazelmere to Midvale tba
Great Eastern Highway Midvale to Coolgardie tba
Coolgardie-Esperance Highway Coolgardie to Norseman tba
National Highway 1
Eyre Highway Norseman to Eucla tba
National Highway A1
Eyre Highway Eucla to Port Augusta tba
Princes Highway Port Augusta to Snowtown tba
Port Wakefield Road Snowtown to Gepps Cross tba
Main North Road Gepps Cross to Adelaide tba
2700 kilometres
Perth to Darwin:
National Highway 95
Roe Highway Midvale (Perth) to Middle Swan (Perth)
Great Northern Highway Middle Swan (Perth) to Port Hedland
National Highway 1
Port Hedland to Wyndham
Victoria Highway Wyndham to Katherine
Stuart Highway Katherine to Darwin
Brisbane to Darwin:
National Highway 15
Ipswich Motorway Brisbane to Wacol 14
Wacol to Riverview
National Highway A2
Warrego Highway Riverview to Brassall
Riverview to Morven
Landsborough Highway Morven to Cloncurry
Barkly Highway Cloncurry to Camooweal
National Highway 66
Camooweal to Tennant Creek
National Highway 87
Stuart Highway Tennant Creek to Daly Waters
National Highway 1
Daly Waters to Darwin
Brisbane to Cairns:
National Highway M1
Bruce Highway Brisbane to Kybong
National Highway A1
Kybong to Cairns
Hobart to Burnie:
National Highway 1
Brooker Highway Hobart to Granton
Midland Highway Granton to Launceston
Bass Highway Launceston to Burnie

History of changes to Australia's National Highway networkEdit

Australia's National Highway Network has had a number of changes since the National Roads Act 1974 was originally established in 1974. The 1974 Act empowered the Federal Minister for Transport to declare as a National Highway, any existing or proposed road in a State, which (in the Minister's opinion), was the main route between two State capitals; a State capital and Canberra; a State capital and Darwin; Brisbane and Cairns; Hobart and Burnie; or any other road which, in the Minister's opinion, was important enough to be a National Highway.[10]

Subsequent replacement legislation in 1977, 1988, and 2005, along with other intervening amendments, contained similar provisions. Notably, important roads to near-metropolitan locations such as Geelong, Bunbury and Wollongong were added in 2005, although not within the original concept of interstate National Highways.

Original routes included in 1974Edit

The original components of the National Highway were officially declared on 20 September 1974, as "links" and terminated at the edge of each capital city.[11] The parts of the routes within the major urban areas were not defined as National Highways,[12] and the Sturt and Newell highway routes were not included in the original 1974 network. In June 1995, as a condition of federal funding, the National Highway route in New South Wales was required to remove existing tolling on the former F3 and former F6 inter-urban freeways, even though the former F6 did not become part of a National Highway until 2005.[13]

The Sydney to Adelaide route via the Hume and Sturt highways, and the Melbourne to Brisbane route via the Newell Highway, were added as links of the National Highway network in November 1992 under the 1988 Act, however the decision to use the route from Goondiwindi to Brisbane via the Gore Highway and Toowoomba, rather than the Cunningham Highway (via Warwick), was not finalized until October 1993.[14] These were the only two major routes added to the National Highway network between 1974 and 2005. In addition, the urban ends of intercity routes, and some link roads and ring roads joining national routes, were explicitly added to the National Highway network for the first time.[14]

As sections of existing highways were upgraded or replaced by nearby parallel routes of a new higher standard, the "National Highway" designation was usually moved onto the new part of the route. The principal route between Sydney and Newcastle was shifted from the old Pacific Highway onto the new Sydney-Newcastle freeway in nine separate stages between 1966 and 1999 as the freeway was progressively implemented. Similar changes were made as the Hume Highway was re-developed.[14]

Routes included in the National Land Transport Network for the first time under the 2005 legislationEdit

Appendix 1 of the 'Auslink (National Land Transport) Bill' of 2004, listed the routes which were proposed to be included in 'The Auslink National Network'.[11] The listing included here distinguished between the components of the "former National Highway system", and the additional routes to be added to the Auslink National Network after the implementation of the new Act, which occurred in 2005. All of the existing routes of the National Highway prior to 2005 were included in the new network. The routes added with the inception of the 2005 Act (as described in Appendix 1 referenced above, some of the descriptions are somewhat ambiguous but clarified in the ensuing regulations)[15] are:

  • the Pacific Highway route between Newcastle and Brisbane
  • the route between Townsville and Mt Isa
  • the route from Sydney (or Eastern Creek) to Dubbo via the M4, Great Western and Mitchell highway
  • the Calder Highway route from Melbourne to Mildura via Bendigo
  • the Southern Freeway and Princes Highway route from Sydney to Wollongong
  • the Princes Freeway from Melbourne to Geelong
  • the Monash Freeway, Princes Freeway and Princes Highway to Taralgon and Sale
  • the route between Perth and Bunbury
  • the route from Launceston to Bell Bay
  • some additional urban connecting routes linking ports and airports and linking the national routes, and forming urban growth corridors, a complete definition of the network as of 2005 is included in the schedule of the 2005 Act[15]

Changes to the National Land Transport Network made in 2007[16]

  • The route description for the Cumberland Highway ( Pennant Hills Road ), between the junctions with the M2 motorway and the F3 Sydney-Newcastle Freeway, was altered. Almost all of the original Cumberland Highway route from Prestons to Wahroonga, established in the 2005 network, was deleted due to the opening of the M7 motorway.

Changes to the National Land Transport Network made in 2008[17]

  • The route description of the national route consisting of part of the Princes Freeway and Princes Highway between Melbourne and Waurn Ponds (west of Geelong), was altered.
  • The proposed Townsville Port Access Road was added.
  • The proposed Tiger Brennan Drive extension in suburban Darwin was added.

Changes to the National Land Transport Network made in 2009[18]

Urban components of the national land transport (road) networkEdit

In Sydney, only a subset of the network of motorways and major roads in the Sydney metropolitan area are part of the current National Land Transport (Roads) Network, the rest are not part of the national network and therefore the Federal Government does not contribute funding on the same basis. The following roads in and around Sydney are currently part of the designated National Land Transport Network[19]

  • Hume Highway from Melbourne to the junction of the M7 and M5 at Prestons, continuing on the M5 South Western Motorway to General Holmes Drive (near Kyeemagh) and then Foreshore Road to its junction with Botany Road.[19]
  • Cumberland Highway (Pennant Hills Road), between the junction with the M2 Hills Motorway at Carlingford, and the junction at the commencement of the Pacific Motorway at Wahroonga.[16] Note: The 2005 network included a route comprising a small part of the old Hume Highway from Prestons to Liverpool, the Cumberland Highway from Liverpool to Northmead, part of James Ruse Drive, and Pennant Hills Road from North Parramatta to the Pacific Motorway junction at Wahroonga.[19] Almost all of this route, except the connection between the M2 and Pacific motorways at the northern end, was removed from the national network in 2007,[16] due to the opening of the M7/M2 route as an alternative.
  • Pacific Motorway, north from Wahroonga.[19]
  • The whole of the Westlink M7 motorway, from its junction with the M5 at Prestons, to Seven Hills, and then the part of the M2 Hills Motorway from Seven Hills to the junction of the Cumberland Highway (Pennant Hills Road) at Carlingford.[19]
  • King Georges Road, from its connection to the Princes Highway at Blakehurst, thence Wiley Avenue, thence Roberts Road to its intersection with the Hume Highway at Greenacre (Chullora).[19]
  • The Princes Highway from its intersection with King Georges Road at Blakehurst, the Princes Motorway to its intersection with the Northern Distributor at Gwynneville (Wollongong).[19]
  • The M4 Western Motorway, between Strathfield and Emu Plains, continuing onto the Great Western Highway towards Dubbo.[18][19] The portion of the M4 between Eastern Creek and Strathfield was only added in 2009.

National highway route numberingEdit

In addition to the network of federally funded National Highways defined in 1974, there was also a system of "national routes". This scheme, which predated the National Highways in 1953, was a plan to coordinate State road authorities to allocate consistent highway numbers to major highways which traversed more than one State, for the convenience of travellers.[20] The most notable example is "Highway 1", which follows the periphery of the continent, and only parts of which form part of the former National Highway and current National Land Transport (Roads) Network.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Australian National Audit Office (8 February 2001). "Management of the National Highways System Program" (PDF). Canberra ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. ISBN 0642442509. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 February 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b c National Roads Act 1974 (Cth).
  3. ^ State Grants (Roads) Act 1977 (Cth).
  4. ^ "'Australian Land Transport Development (ALTD) Act 1988'".
  5. ^ "'Australian Land Transport Development (ALTD) Act 1988 Section 10.5'".
  6. ^ "AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005". 8 July 2005. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  7. ^ "'AusLink (National Land Transport) Act National Land Transport Network Determination 2005 (No. 1)'". 10 October 2005. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  8. ^ "' Displayed here are links to compilations of the Principal, the most current at the top of the list.'".
  9. ^ "'AusLink (National Land Transport) Act National Land Transport Network Determination 2005 (No. 1) as amended'". Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  10. ^ National Roads Act 1974 (Cth) s 4.
  11. ^ "'The National System'". Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  12. ^ "'NSW Hansard'". Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  13. ^ a b c "'The National Highway System'". Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  14. ^ a b "' AusLink (National Land Transport) Act National Land Transport Network Determination 2005 (No. 1) – F2005L03285 '". 10 October 2005. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  15. ^ a b c "'AusLink (National Land Transport) Act National Land Transport Network Variation 2007 (No. 1)'date=2007-02-14". Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  16. ^ "'AusLink (National Land Transport) Act National Land Transport Network Determination 2005 (No.1) Variation 2'". 23 September 2008. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  17. ^ a b "'AusLink (National Land Transport) Act National Land Transport Network Determination (No. 1) 2005 Variation 3 '". 10 February 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h "'Schedule 1 Existing and Proposed Roads Forming Part of the National Land Transport Network '".
  19. ^ "'National Routes'".

External linksEdit