Road Classification in New South Wales

What are road classifications and why are they used?

The process of classifying roads is a mechanism used by the State Government to assist in the allocation of State Government funding and the allocation of management responsibility between State and Local government authorities. The major advantage to a classification system is that methods for allocating funding and management responsibility.

How does the New South Wales system work?

At the present time, New South Wales has two different systems for classifying roads, one which is a legal framework and one that is used purely for funding and responsibility allocation.

The legal system of classified roads is controlled under the Roads Act 1993, which divides classified roads into the following categories:

  • Freeway
  • State Highway
  • Main Road
  • Tourist Road
  • Secondary Road

The process of classifying a road into one of these categories is by way of publishing a declaration (also referred to proclamation) in the New South Wales Government Gazette. Once the Government Gazette has been published, the declaration takes effect (unless a different commencement date is specified). This process is thus also referred to as “gazettal”.

However, whilst this is the legal framework for classifying roads in New South Wales, management of the classified roads is done under a different system. The Roads Act 1993, which administers the Freeway, State Highway, Main Road, Tourist Road and Secondary Road classifications, does not specify funding or management arrangements for each classification. Instead, all classified roads are then categorised into three management categories:

  • State Roads
  • Regional Roads
  • Local Roads

State Roads are the primary network of principal traffic carrying and linking routes for the movement of people and goods within the urban centres of Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and Central Coast, and throughout the State. These are the responsibility of the Roads and Traffic Authority (i.e. State Government) to fund, prioritise and carry out works. State Roads generally include those roads classified as Freeways, State Highways and Main Roads under the Roads Act, however there are a few exceptions (more about this later). Interestingly, the council remains the “owner” and “authority” for State Roads other than Freeways, and the RTA only exercises road authority functions to the extent necessary for the functioning of the road as a State Road (i.e. councils are responsible for the footpaths and road reserve, whilst the RTA is responsible for the pavement and structures).

Regional Roads comprise the secondary road network which, together with State Roads, provide for travel between smaller towns and districts and perform a sub-arterial function within major urban centres. These roads are the responsibility of councils (including determining priorities and carrying out works) but receive a block grant of funding from the State Government. This category generally includes those roads classified as Secondary Roads and many of the less significant Main Roads, plus many roads not classified under the Roads Act.

Local Roads comprise those roads not classified under the Roads Act 1993 and some classified roads that now provide for only local access and communication. These roads are the responsibility of Local Government authorities with only limited funding assistance from the State Government.

How are classified roads numbered and/or named?

All classified roads have been numbered, as this is the preferred method for administering them. Below is an outline of the numbers used for each classification:

  • Freeways (6000-6999)
  • State Highways (1-50)
  • Main Roads (51-999)
  • Secondary Roads (2000-2999)
  • Tourist Roads (4000-4999)

Further to these numbers, roads that are unclassified under the Roads Act 1993 but fall within the Regional Roads category for management are numbered from 7000-7999.

Naming of classified roads is a harder topic to do research on. Roads classified as Freeways or State Highways generally have one consistent name along their length. However there is still one un-named State Highway - No. 23, commonly referred to as the Newcastle Inner City Bypass. Other classified roads generally have a number of different names along their lengths.

Under Section 163 of the Roads Act 1993, the Roads and Traffic Authority is required to maintain a record of all the classified roads, known as a ‘Schedule of Classified Roads’, and have these records available for inspection, free of charge, by the public during normal business hours.

An official list of road names for classified roads is harder to come by. Most road names appear to have been proclaimed by Local Government authorities. The RTA has indicated that it does not maintain a register of proclaimed road names.

However, research in old Department of Main Roads Annual Reports has shown that road names are (or at least were) declared for classified roads. An example of this is the rationalisation of road names along Main Road No. 329 (Warringah Road) between Roseville Bridge and Dee Why. Prior to the declaration of the “Warringah Road” name, the road was known as: Warringah Rd, Rodborough Rd, May Rd and McKillop Road as well as having some unnamed sections.

Are these numbers the same as the ones I see on directional signs?

No. The classification numbers are internal and only used for administration purposes. The numbers (in shields) that are shown on signs are used to make navigation easier for motorists and thus need to be more flexible as the road network changes. Changing a route marker is a lot easier than changing the number and/or classification of a road.

What are controlled-access roads?

Under the Roads Act 1993, the Chief Executive Officer of the Roads and Traffic Authority has the power to declare any classified road, or portion of any other road adjoining a classified road, a controlled-access road. This does not change the classification of the road (e.g. a State Highway can be also declared a controlled-access road) but is in addition to it. By declaring a road to be a controlled-access road, the RTA holds the power to restrict access to a road (i.e. someone wishing to construct an access or egress point to/from a controlled access road must first obtain permission from the RTA to do so). This has the effect of improving traffic flow along controlled-access roads because places where traffic can enter and exit the roadway are restricted. Controlled-access roads were formerly known as “Motorways” under the Main Roads Acts 1925-1984 and the State Roads Act 1986.

Why does the Roads Act not reflect the State/Regional/Local management system?

It does seem rather odd that legislation does not reflect the current management framework and even more unusual when you consider that the State/Regional/Local system has been operating since 1989, and in the meantime there has been a change in legislation (State Roads Act 1986 replaced by Roads Act 1993).

The search for an answer to this question has proved fruitless, so I still can’t answer it. However, there is a proposed review of the Roads Act 1993, which could result in new legislation abolishing the old (State Highway etc.) classifications and reflecting the new (State/Regional/Local) system.

Webmaster’s thoughts:

In my humble opinion, I feel the management of New South Wales’ roads could be a lot better. A system similar to that operating in Victoria (where Vicroads is responsible for the traffic lanes on all declared roads) would give much greater control over the State’s roads. This is advantageous for two reasons: that consistency in road design and standard can be applied across the state (rather than on the select few State Roads) and that (in theory) the design, efficiently and quality of construction and maintenance should be better because a central road authority has more experience and is better equipped to handle managing roads. This is one of the major reasons behind the establishment of the Main Roads Board (predecessor of the RTA) and to move away from centralised control of roads seems like a step backwards.

However, if the State/Regional/Local management classifications are retained, they need to be reflected in legislation. At the moment, we have the ludicrous situation where a State Highway (the second highest classification in NSW, behind Freeways) is a Regional Road (Bruxner Highway – State Highway No. 16 – is a Regional Road west of Tenterfield Shire and it is currently proposed that Mid Western Highway – State Highway No. 6 – becomes a Regional Road between Cowra and Marsden).

Historical Notes on Road Classifications in New South Wales:

Prior to 1925, roads were administered by the Local Government authorities, with the exception of a handful of roads that were taken over by the Public Works Department. In 1925, the Main Roads Board was formed to manage the construction and maintenance of a system of classified roads across the State. Initially, the only classification was Main Roads, however Sir Michael Bruxner and H.H. Newell (Commissioner for Main Roads 1932-1941) devised a new system which would divide the state’s classified roads into three categories:

  • State Highway
  • Trunk Roads
  • Main Roads

These new classifications came into force on 7 August 1928, with State Highways numbered 1-50, Trunk Roads 51-99 and Main Roads 101-999. With the introduction of Commonwealth Grants for works on “Developmental Roads”, a new classification was then introduced to cover these roads. Developmental Roads were numbered from 1001-1999 and Developmental Works (such as a bridge) were numbered from 3001-3999.

Later, extra classifications were added to reflect changing transport needs and an expanding road network. These included Secondary Roads (complementing the network of Main Roads in urban areas), Tourist Roads (roads serving primary tourist attractions) and Freeways (there was no such thing as a freeway in Australia before World War 2). Trunk Roads were later abolished by the State Roads Act 1986 and those former Trunk Roads became ordinary Main Roads.

After the major review of the classified road system by the Department of Main Roads in 1948, many years passed before another major review was undertaken. The next major review came in the late 1980s, presumably as part of the continuing “corporatisation” of Government departments. A memorandum of understanding was signed by the Ministers for Roads and Local Government, which split all classified roads into two broad management groups – State and Regional. Those unclassified roads made up a third group – Local. The aim of the split was to focus RTA responsibilities on a greater control of expanded network of State Roads (prior to this the RTA only had complete control over State Highways, Freeways and metropolitan Main Roads) and rationalise the administrative overlap with Councils in relation to funding other roads, including the introduction of a block grant of funding for Regional Roads. Following the introduction of the State/Regional/Local system, extensive changes were made to the classified road system from 1991 to 1995 resulting in a large net increase in the length of declared roads. However, even with a change in legislation in 1993 the State/Regional/Local system was not incorporated into law.

A review is now underway (final report due December 2005 but has not been released yet) of the State/Regional/Local classifications. A review of the Roads Act 1993 (with a view to abolishing the State Highway etc. classifications in favour of the State/Regional/Local system) has been proposed but has not yet begun.

In summary, the legal classifications in NSW and their numbers are:



Current Status

State Highway


Still in use

Trunk Road


Have been absorbed into ordinary ‘Main Road’ classification, numbering has been retained

Main Road


Still in use

Developmental Road


No longer used - State Roads Act 1986 phased them out

Secondary Road


Still in use

Developmental Work


No longer used - State Roads Act 1986 phased them out

Tourist Road


Still in use

County Roads


No longer in use. Not sure if this classification ever had legal status, but it was used to define ‘County Road’ proposals from the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme.



Still in use. Freeways were formerly numbered the same as State Highways.

Regional Roads


Not a legal classification but used to identify unclassified roads that are ‘Regional Roads’ under the terms of the State/Regional/Local management arrangement



Still in use - used to identify Sydney’s bus-only transitways, which are managed by the RTA



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