Road Classification in Queensland

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 Queensland system work?

Management of State Controlled Roads in Queensland is regulated by the Transport Infrastructure Act 1994. Unlike similar Acts in other states, this Act does not specify how state-controlled roads are to be classified (e.g. separated into State Highways, Main Roads etc.). This allows the Main Roads Department and/or the State Government the flexibility to change its classification and management system without the need for legislative review.

Currently, state-controlled roads are classified under the following categories:

  • National Highways (the former National Highway corridors as defined under Federal Government legislation)
  • State Strategic Roads
  • Regional Roads
  • District Roads

Several non-state-controlled roads are also classified under these categories, such as franchised motorways controlled by Queensland Motorways (Gateway Bridge, Logan Motorway, the Gateway Motorway extension and the Port of Brisbane Arterial Road [Motorway]), Local Government Roads and Mining Roads.

State Strategic Roads are clearly the most important roads (other than the National Highways) in the state and thus command the most funding and the highest construction standard. The standard of construction and levels of funding drop with each step down in classification.

How are classified roads numbered and/or named?

These days there is no correlation between road number and road classification. The numbering and naming system has remained the same from the days of the Road Plan of Queensland (1963-2001), which means you can still see which roads were once State Highways (10-49), Developmental Roads (50-99), Main Roads (100-999), Secondary Roads (1000-9999), Urban Arterial Roads (U10-49), and Urban Sub-Arterial Roads (U50-99). Furthermore, the former State Highways and Developmental Roads (being the longer roads of the state) are divided into sections, each noted by a letter suffix on the end (e.g. 20B = road No. 20 Section B).

All classified roads have a declared road name which is consistent along its length, however the declared road name is often omitted on directional signs in favour of more commonly used local names, except on State Highways or Developmental Roads. Each of the former State Highways and Developmental Roads has its own distinctive name, whilst the former Main Roads and Secondary Roads are more typically named from point to point (e.g. Southport-Burleigh Road) or for what they connect to (e.g. Tallebudgera Connection Road). Naming of former Urban Arterial and Sub-Arterial Roads is not transparent, sometimes mirroring unofficial local names (Logan Arterial Rd = Logan Rd), sometimes referring to an eventual destination (Gympie Arterial Road) or a region through which the road passes (Redland Sub-Arterial Road).

Are these numbers the same 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 limited access roads?

Under the Transport Infrastructure Act 1994, the Chief Executive of Main Roads may declare part or all of any state-controlled road a limited access road. This means that the Chief Executive can regulate access and egress points on the declared limited access road, thus improving traffic flow and safety. Once a limited access road has been declared, a policy regarding access to and from adjacent land must be gazetted.

Declaring a state-controlled road a ‘limited access road’ does not change its classification but is rather an addition to it.

What’s the difference between a limited access road and a motorway?

This question is a little tricky to answer, seeing that the Transport Infrastructure Act does not give a definition of either of these two terms. However, I can quite confidently say that a Motorway is a higher form of limited access road. Along with access restrictions to/from adjacent land, a motorway has restrictions on what types of vehicles can and cannot enter it as well as restrictions on stopping or turning. A good contrasting example would be to compare the Logan Motorway, which is a fully-fledged ‘motorway’ with grade-separated interchanges, with the New England Highway at Stanthorpe, which is a limited-access road with at-grade intersections and no general restrictions on standing or stopping a motor vehicle.

Historical Notes on road classification in Queensland:

Until recently, the Queensland classified road system (with the exception of within the Brisbane City Council boundaries) was divided into the following categories:

  • Freeway
  • State Highway
  • Developmental Road
  • Main Road
  • Secondary Road

Within the boundaries of Brisbane City Council, the classified road system was divided into the following categories:

  • Urban Arterial
  • Urban Sub-Arterial

The different classifications for roads inside the boundaries of Brisbane City Council was quite a forward-thinking idea, recognising the different roles that roads in rural and urban areas play. Also, to an extent, Main Roads, in adopting these different classifications, recognised that public transportation has a more important role than roads in transporting commuters to and from Brisbane CBD.

The acknowledgment of public transport as a factor in the road network can trace its origins back to the establishment of the Main Roads Board in the 1920s. At this time roads were seen as feeders to railway lines (which had commanded extensive borrowing and investment from the Queensland Government since the 1860s) and, to a lesser extent, as a means of connecting population and production centres that had no access to a railway. For this reason, early road declarations were very haphazard and in no way reflected an integrated network of roads like we have today.

The first State Highway (Bruce Highway) was gazetted in 1931 and it would be followed by the declaration of 59 others before 1960. However, these highways often had gaps in them or had several different names and classifications along the same length of roads. Furthermore, without a proper review process, many roads that no longer warranted classification remained in the system and new roads were being added to the system that Main Roads had no chance of funding them all at a satisfactory level. Many, if not most, of the State Highways were still unsealed and there were extensive lengths of unformed road. At one point, Main Roads had to call a moratorium on the addition of new roads to the classified road system because there was a huge backlog of work and not enough funds to spread sufficiently across the existing system, let alone to spend on new roads.

To remedy this, the Main Roads Department undertook a massive redesign of the declared road system, starting from scratch and building a new integrated network of roads with a simplified classification system. This was called the Road Plan of Queensland and made its gazetted debut on 1 July 1963. From here onwards, every five years the Road Plan was reviewed with Main Roads considering submissions from Councils regarding roads that should be added to the system and also identifying roads that no longer warranted classification. This very successful system of managing Queensland’s road network continued until 2001, when the current State Road Network of Queensland classification system was introduced. The flexibility to change the management system stemmed from the changes in legislation from the late 1980s through to 1994 that no longer specified how state-controlled roads must be classified.

If you are interested in reading more about the history of road planning in Queensland, separate and more detailed articles on both the original, Road Plan of Queensland and State Road Network of Queensland classification systems will appear on this site in the future.


  • Personal correspondence with QMR, 2005-2006
  • Queensland Department of Main Roads (QMR), 2002, From Bulldust to Beef Roads and Beyond - Main Roads, the first 50 years, Brisbane: The Department.
  • Queensland Department of Main Roads (QMR), 2002-2004, The State Strategic Road Network of Queensland (Maps).
  • Queensland Main Roads Department (QMR), 1949-2004, Annual Reports.
  • Queensland Main Roads Department (QMR), 1963-2001, Road Plan of Queensland (Maps).
  • Transport Infrastructure Act 1994

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