With motorised transport taking a foothold in middle of the twentieth century, the need for safer roads became even more pressing for road planners. One such need was for better direction signing across the Melbourne Metropolitan area, and for ways to make navigation across Melbourne’s grid road network easier. Following the success of road numbering in Europe and in the United States, it was inevitable that Melbourne would follow suit by introducing a route numbering system of its own.
Following extensive research nationally and internationally, work began in the 1950s for a route numbering system for Victoria. One early proposal used a blue rectangular shield with the words ‘STATE ROUTE’ at the bottom - however this plan was not adopted. In 1961, the National Association of Australian State Road Authorities (NAASRA) developed guidelines for a State Route numbering system that could be implemented on inter-regional and urban routes. After nationwide agreement, this intrastate route numbering scheme would be adopted by Victoria.
On 1 December 1965, after planning by the Traffic Commission in consultant with Municipal Councils and the Country Roads Board, a new route numbering system for Victoria was officially unveiled albeit only for the metropolitan area of Melbourne (note that signing of the routes began roughly two years prior). The route numbering scheme consisted of:
- A shield based system which used a blue coloured shield in the shape of an upside-down spade. The numerals were to be in white.
- East - west routes were to be even numbered.
- North - south routes were to be odd numbered.
The system was called the Metropolitan Route Numbering Scheme as, at the time, they were limited to the Melbourne metropolitan area. Victoria was the first mainland state to adopt this system.
During the 1970s, a number of key metropolitan freeways were constructed prompting a special sub-group of route numbering. These routes, known as Freeway Routes, were specifically assigned to freeways in an attempt to increase their prominence to motorists. Metropolitan Route numbers 80 to 90 were reserved for use as Freeway Routes.
The success of the system relied on the effectiveness of its signage. Over the years, signing practices have improved to enable drivers to follow a particular route successfully. The blue-shield of the scheme is a recognisable feature on all direction signs. The initial signage practice was with the heavy use of standalone route number shields which later evolved to incorporate the use of route shields within green direction signs.
The Metropolitan Route Numbering Scheme had a significant refurbishment during the 1980s. The practice as mentioned above to incorporate route shields within direction signs became the norm under the Metropolitan Direction Signing Program - a large scale project to upgrade road signage in Melbourne. Between 1987 and 1990, a number of routes were modified and new routes introduced to cover the new growth areas of Melbourne. Concurrently, the shield based system was extended into regional Victoria in 1985 as part of the Victorian State Route Numbering System.
Since the end of 1980s, there has been another significant change to the system. Beginning in 1996, the Statewide Route Numbering System (SRNS) was introduced into regional Victoria. Metropolitan Routes which lied on the outer urban fringe of Melbourne were incorporated into the new system. Many of these routes were only introduced in the late 1980s, making them redundant in less than ten years.
It is fair to say that the days of the Metropolitan Route Numbering Scheme are numbered. With the introduction of alphanumeric routes across the country, it is only a matter of time before Metropolitan Routes become a distant part of Victoria’s road history. With that said, the system is still under constant renewal, with a handful of new route being introduced recently - for example Metropolitan Route 60 in inner Melbourne in June 2013 replacing the remnant section of National Route 79.