Road Classification in Northern Territory

What are road classifications and why are they used?

Classification of roads in the Northern Territory is used solely as a mechanism for allocating responsibility between the Territory government and local government authorities. At this stage, the classification system in use in Northern Territory does not provide a functional or strategic hierarchy within the roads that are the responsibility of the Territory government.

How does the Northern Territory system work?

The classification of roads in Northern Territory is provided for under three pieces of legislation, viz:

  • Control of Roads Act 1953
  • Local Government Act 1993
  • Planning Act 2005

The Control of Roads Act 1954 and the Local Government Act 1993 both provide for the allocation of responsibility for roads, whilst the Planning Act 2005 deals with control of access. Control of access is dealt with later in this article.

Section 7 of the Control of Roads Act 1953 vests control of all roads not within an incorporated area, as defined under the Local Government Act 1993, are the property of and vested in the Territory; thus being under the ‘care, control and management of the Minister’.

Section 131 of the Local Government Act 1993 then gives the Minister the power to declare that a road within an incorporated area is under the care, control and management of the Territory, thus making it a ‘Territory Road’. These roads are typically those performing functions on a territory level, e.g. the major highways, major urban roads in Darwin, access roads to ports, and access roads to tourist destinations.

The term ‘Territory Road’ is not an official title provided for in any legislation, but rather a commonly used name to refer to those roads which are under the care, control and management of the Territory.

Territory Roads are not classified into any other categories, such as ‘Main Road’ or ‘Highway’, as is common practice in other states. However, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure is moving towards implementing a classification system along the lines of ‘Highway’ and ‘Main Road’ to better manage Territory Roads. New legislation to replace the Control of Roads Act is anticipated to be introduced around mid-2007, at the same time as recently-announced (October 2006) local government reforms are implemented.

How are classified roads numbered?

Classified roads are not numbered in proclamations – they refer either to names or cadastral references. The Department of Planning and Infrastructure does number classified roads for internal use, in a similar way that the Roads and Traffic Authority (NSW) uses its roadloc numbering system. However, these numbers have no legal standing.

How are classified roads named?

Classified roads are not named any differently to unclassified roads in Northern Territory. All road names, along with other place names, are the responsibility of the Place Names Committee of the Northern Territory.

There is no direct relationship between a road being given a ‘Highway’ name and its function or status. Behind most ‘Highway’ names is a historical reason which may now be an anachronism. For example, the Plenty Highway and Tanami Road both fulfil the same interstate function, yet one is named ‘Highway’ and the other is named ‘Road’.

What are controlled-access roads?

Controlled-access roads, also known as ‘Motorways’ in NSW or ‘Limited-Access Roads’ in Tasmania, are roads which are subject to control of access. This means that the Minister can restrict access to or from this type of road to prescribed locations, usually used to maintain adequate spacing between access points for traffic or safety reasons.

In Northern Territory there is no provision under the Control of Roads Act 1953 to proclaim a ‘controlled-access road’, instead the powers provided for under the Planning Act 1999 to create ‘planning schemes’ or ‘control plans’ are used. The Highways Control Plan 1984 is the current planning instrument used to control access Territory Roads outside of towns or planing districts. Within these areas, other planning instruments specific to that town or planning district are used.


  • Control of Roads Act 1953
  • Highways Control Plan 1984
  • Local Government Act 1993
  • Personal communication with Department of Planning and Infrastructure
  • Department of Planning and Infrastructure, 2006, Place Names [Online], Available from: Accessed: 5 December 2006
  • Planning Act 2005

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