The damage bill for trucks being driven on regional Victorian roads has increased by almost one third for a Melbourne freight company.

Hawk Logistics is a refrigerated freight company that transports poultry products from farms to supermarkets and distribution centres across Victoria, Adelaide and Sydney.

The company said trucks driving on routes along the Western Highway, Newell Highway, Sturt Highway from Wagga Wagga, and Calder and Midland Highway near Bendigo had damage to the windscreens, tyres and suspension.

“We are getting feedback from our drivers and noticing direct damage [to] our vehicles,” said Brendan Russell, general manager of Hawk Logistics’ commercial freight.

Unsealed shoulders and crumbling roads are prone to cracking, water damage and result in loose stones.(Supplied: Ryan Milgate)

He said the side panels of refrigerated trailers had been damaged or lost altogether, which he had not seen before.

Mr Russell said driving over rough roads wore down the suspensions, shock absorbers and pushers.

A man with short dark hair and dark clothes sits outside a restaurant, smiling.
Brendan Russell from Hawk Logistics says the extra costs are stacking up.(Supplied: Brendan Russell)

Ultimately the road vibrations damaged or loosened the panels, and they would come off altogether.

“It’s unexpected and we’ve got to deal with this repair and maintenance that is an additional cost to our business,” Mr Russell said.

He estimated that maintenance costs for the fleet had increased by 25 to 30 per cent as a result of the potholes, crumbling shoulders and loose stones.

Mr Russell said he was not sure whether the bad road conditions were caused by underfunding or the rainfall brought on by La Niña.

“We’ve seen a lot of rain between Brisbane and Sydney and around to Griffith and Wagga Wagga, which has caused a lot of damage to roads,” he said.

A farmer stands in front of a truck loaded with hay.
Ryan Milgate says he must drive below the speed limit for prolonged stretches to reduce the wear and tear on his truck.(Supplied: Ryan Milgate)

Time, cost and fatigue

Victorian Farmers Federation transport and infrastructure chair Ryan Milgate said the state of the roads took a toll on his vehicles too.

The Minyip grain farmer delivers crops to sheep and dairy farms and feed mills across western Victoria.

“It’s gradually getting worse and worse,” Mr Milgate said.

Damage to internal parts of truck after a white panel covering was lost.
The road vibrations have resulted in panels on the refrigerated trucks coming loose and falling off, exposing internal components.(Supplied: Hawk Logistics)

He said his shock absorbers needed to be replaced after 12 to 18 months — about three times more often than normal.

He also struggled to get reasonable mileage from his tyres, especially the steering ones, which have had a 30 to 40 per cent increase in wear and tear.

To minimise the impact on his trucks Mr Milgate drives 20 kilometres below the speed limit.

“The road is still signposted at 100 kilometres, but we just can’t run the truck over that day in and day out because it’s knocking it around,” Mr Milgate said.

“In a lot of patches of road that’s the only option we’ve got … it’s taking us a lot longer to get a job done than it used to or probably should.”

A torn truck tyre lying on the ground.
Mr Russell says in addition to windscreens and panels, tyres are also wearing down.(Supplied: Hawk Logistics)

Mr Milgate said transporting grain took 10 to 15 per cent longer than it used to and was mentally more tiring because drivers needed to pay even closer attention to the road surfaces for prolonged periods.

Mr Milgate and Mr Russell agreed that the region’s roads were never designed to sustain this level of heavy vehicle use and believed a well-connected and cost-effective rail network would alleviate some of that toll.

“Instead of trying to handle a full harvest for canola or wheat through trucks, utilisation of the old legacy rail systems makes a lot of sense,” Mr Russell said.

In a statement, the Victorian Transport Department said about $8 million was spent in the past year to repair the Western Highway, including major upgrades near Pink Lake and Wail.

More work on the the highway between Ballarat and Beaufort and Stawell and Kaniva is scheduled for the coming weeks.

Hole in the gravel on shoulder of narrow road
More than 6,000 vehicles, including 1,500 trucks, travel on the route west of Ballarat each day.(ABC Ballarat: Jackson Peck)

The department said it regularly inspected the highway to ensure it was safe for drivers and conducted regular maintenance when necessary while longer term solutions to address certain sections of highway were explored.

“We are working with the Australian Road Research Board to undertake detailed testing and analysis on the Western Highway between Beaufort and Ballarat to assess the road condition and come up with cost effective treatments,” a government spokesperson said.