Road maintenance

We have more than 800kms of roads that we proactively maintain and manage to increase the safety and quality of the road network.

Road fact icons

The way we prioritise our road repairs and maintenance is much like maintaining a house. If you do it regularly and keep on top of it, you prolong the life of your house and decrease the speed of deterioration. With this in mind, we conduct three types of road maintenance: road reseals, road rehabilitation and road reconstruction.

We've created a series of videos and answered some key FAQs to help our community understand how we build and maintain roads and manage our potholes.

Types of roads in Port Stephens

How a road is constructed

Types of road rehab


Our sealed road maintenance program

Our gravel road maintenance program

Pothole FAQs

Potholes occur through a number of ways – sometimes due to general wear and tear, sometimes due to faults in the pavement surface but more often than not, its weather events that cause significant pothole damage.

Over time, the road seal deteriorates due to general wear and tear – this can lead to small cracks in the seal which can increase over time and cause an opening or pothole.

The size of the pothole is reflective of the quality of the subgrade under the road – good quality roads with high quality subgrade have less potholes than those roads with poor quality subgrade.

Potholes increase significantly in bad weather when water gets in the cracks in the seal. This undermines the subgrade and simply creates a hole in the surface of the road pavement.

As rain continues to fall, it expands the hole – at the same time, traffic continues over the surface causing more damage, increasing its size and causing more dangerous potholes.

Potholes need to be repaired as quickly as possible however, after heavy rain, we get lots of potholes and need to priorities which ones get fixed first.

We have a very specific criteria for determining the risk associated with each pothole which includes things like the traffic volume and whether the pothole is in the middle of the road, to the side and so on.

When our road crews head out to fix a high risk pothole, they also fix many smaller, less risky ones nearby to save time and money.

We always try to get to the most dangerous potholes first.

It’s not quite as simple as that. To fix a pothole properly we need to reseal or rehabilitate the road and we just don’t have the resources to do this on every road.

So, outside of this we have to use temporary measures to fix potholes. There’s two ways we can do this, a cold patch or a hot mix.

Cold patch

When we have constant rain – like we have recently – a cold patch is the best method to use. We need to fill as many holes as we can to avoid risk to our community. And if it’s raining, a hot mix won’t set properly.

After a major storm event – we just need to fix the cracks – a bit like if your roof leaked, you need to patch it immediately to stop more water getting in and damaging the rest of the roof.

A cold patch really is a quick fix – a surface level fix – they aren’t as effective as a hot mix and don’t last nearly as long. But again, it’s all about reducing the risk to our community. We know it won’t last a very long time, but if we don’t get out as quick as possible, we also know it won’t take long before more damage occurs underneath and we are up for more money and more maintenance.

Further repairs – such as a hot mix repair – will be needed only a short time later.

Hot mix

We use hot mix when we want to repair substantial pot holes, in dry weather and know the repair will last. The pavement around the pothole is excavated and then filled in and sealed with hot asphalt.

This type of repair addresses the underlying problems that caused the pothole and prevents more damage from occurring.

They cost more up front, but they end up costing less in the long run as no further repairs will be needed in the short term.

Our pothole program is based on calls from customers, reports by Councillors and our regular reviews of the roads. We also have a roads inspector who travels our road network regularly and reports on pothole locations, size and associated risk.

The information that comes in from the public is really important. The more data we have the better we can manage our road network to ensure it is safe for our community.

You can submit information on potholes here.

Across Port Stephens, we have 56km (out of a total of 720km) of gravel roads.

Gravel roads are cheaper to maintain and have significantly less traffic volumes than our sealed roads and generally service rural or semi-rural locations.

The sealing of a gravel road is considered an upgrade and is generally driven by housing development. The cost of a home in a new development will contribute to the upfront cost of sealing a road, which is undertaken by the developer. Once it is sealed, it moves under Council’s maintenance program.

For our existing gravel road maintenance, we undertake three levels of gravel road maintenance:

Level 1: Complete gravel re-sheet

This is where the entire road is re-gravelled, re-shaped, drains reinstated, culverts cleaned and you essentially have a “new” gravel road.

Level 2: Proactive maintenance grading

This is a proactive scheduled program where the grader, roller and water cart grade the full length of each road in turn. They undertake limited drainage works and they may add a truckload or two of gravel to ‘top up’ the worst sections.

The number of maintenance grades each road receives per year is based on a traffic volume. This is efficient and effective as the grading crew is located in one area for a period of time and can fully address all the roads in that area before moving to the next area.

Level 3: Reactive response maintenance

This is a reactive risk based activity where roads are inspected more frequently (generally after a storm event) and the priority of works is continually revised and reprioritised.

On this basis, the higher use heavier trafficked through roads (eg 6 Mile, East Seaham) get prioritised over the lower use roads.

Similar to a cold mix pothole repair, it’s less efficient and only addresses the priority issues however, due to the severe weather we’ve had over the past 18 months or more, we’ve been in a revolving Level 3, reactive state with little opportunity to re-establish a Level 2 proactive program or undertake selected Level 1 gravel resheets.

We’re aware of the condition of our gravel roads and have increased our inspection schedule in response.

Due to the weather and budgetary constraints, we’ll continue in a reactive risk based approach, attending to priority failures only.

When the weather improves significantly, we’ll be able to return to a proactive schedule maintenance grading program.

Road FAQs

Council has more than 800kms of roads that we proactively maintain and manage to increase the safety and quality of the road network.

Roads in NSW are divided into specific categories – State Roads, Regional Roads, Local Roads and unsealed and crown roads.

Council is responsible for the maintenance of all regional and local roads plus unsealed roads and some crown roads. We also provide maintenance on state roads under contract to the NSW Government.

Nelson Bay Road, Cabbage Tree Road / Tomago Road and Richardson Road are State Roads. Council is contracted by the NSW Government to undertake regular maintenance on these roads and, at various times, road resealing and repairs.

When a road is identified as a State Road, it’s fully funded by Transport for NSW, with the majority of maintenance and renewal or upgrade works managed by Council under a contract at no cost to the Port Stephens rate payer.

Lemon Tree Passage Road, Medowie Road, Seaham Road and Clarence Town Road (north of Seaham) are regional roads. Council receives funding support to help with maintenance and repair of Regional Road network.

We have a maintenance contract with the NSW Government to maintain this road and there are certain conditions associated with it. This includes mowing and weed spraying, which is only approved to be undertaken at specific times on weekends due to traffic volumes through the week.

There’s no cost to Council for this maintenance work on Nelson Bay Road – it's fully funded by the NSW Government.

We invest more than $1.6M into the management and maintenance of our road networks each year. We have a rolling schedule of road maintenance and although we’d love to reseal about 10% of our networks every year, we do less than 2% due to resourcing.

Our budget doesn’t allow us to fix everything and we do our best to direct our roads maintenance program to the area of most need.

Keeping roads up to modern standards is an ongoing task faced by many councils around the state.

Yes, all the time. Grant funding from State and Federal Governments is generally for the replacement of roads and over the years, Council has been very successful in receiving grants for road rehabilitation and road resealing.

Many of our roads across Port Stephens were designed and built at a time where Port Stephens was much smaller with much less traffic volume than it has today.

Some of our roads have been built without the right drainage, others have a very low quality subgrade (the materials that make up the base of the road), some are built on moving sand and others through old river beds and some have all of the above features!

If we were to start again, we wouldn’t build the roads in the same place or use the same materials. But, we know this is not an option and so we need to make the best of what we have.

The way we prioritise our road repairs and maintenance can be easy likened to how you maintain a house.

Sometimes, you often have minor home maintenance to attend to – a leaking tap, a bump in the wall, a cracked window. These are the small and quick repairs that you know if you stay on top of, you’ll avoid more expensive and time consuming repairs down the track.

This is similar to a pothole patch. When potholes occur, we need to fix them as soon as possible so they don’t turn into larger problems. We know this is a temporary fix but fully resealing every road where potholes occur needs more money, time and resourcing.

We plan for this and know that in the long term it will help protect our roads and increase their lifespan.

This is similar to the way you would plan to repaint your house every 15 years or so.

Our road reseal schedule occurs every 10 to 15 years and in between, we undertake a patch here and there to keep the roads safe and drivable.

Sometimes, it looks like we are resealing a road that has nothing wrong with it and in some instances this is correct. But, just like your house, we don’t want to wait until there is something wrong with it. We know that if we reseal our roads every 10-15 years, we’ll keep them in better condition and reduce costs down the track.

After 20 years in your home, you might need to start to think about doing some serious maintenance like replacing gutters or rebuilding a deck. A paint job won’t fix these problems and we don’t want them to get worse. This is similar to when we heavy patch larger sections of a road.

After 30 years in your house it might be time for a full renovation – the bones are still good, but it’s time for a major overhaul. It’s expensive, but still cheaper than a new house. This can be compared to the rehabilitation of the road pavement where we not only fix the top layers but also work on the subgrade and improve what’s underneath the road.

Finally, after 40 years of living in your home it might be time to consider a knock down and rebuild. For our road network, this equates to a full reconstruction and will include drainage, road widening and pedestrian access improvements.

Pothole repairs and heavy patches are prioritised based on the level of risk they pose.

Road rehabilitation and upgrades are prioritised by the condition of the pavement, the age and the use of the road.

Sometimes, we have to change our schedule to accommodate a new project due to a specific grant program.

For a significant development, the upgrade of the road network is a condition of the development consent. This means that the developer is responsible for the costs associated with the upgrades required to support the increase in traffic for the development.

Council provides very specific criteria regarding the type of road pavement required for the development.

Examples of developer funded road upgrades include the current roadworks at the Harvey Norman development at Taylors Beach.

There’s a lot that goes into a road pavement. Apart from what we see on the surface, there are layers of construction underneath the road that require proper attention to minimise the need for future road repairs.

When working on roads, we also need to maintain traffic flow which takes time and slows down the process.

When we build a road, you can compare the process to painting raw timber. After painting the first coat we need to let it dry before coming back to paint the second layer – to allow the second coat to bond to the first. The first layer is also wetter than the others – we have to let it bond and dry out.

Once dry, we let a new road settle out to make sure we haven’t missed any failures or spots to fix. Similar to paintwork – before it’s finalised, you find those bubbles and missed spots and fix them.

Road maintenance request

Report potholes or any other issues in our road network.