27 February 2023

Headin' down the highway to hell? Take a moment ...

| Sally Hopman
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There are so many helpful signs along the Barton Highway, unfortunately most of which encourage you to, well, stop. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Have you noticed that we don’t finish things like we used to?

Roads, for example. Buildings. We like to knock ’em down but when it comes to putting them back up again, or a new one in their place, not so much.

The best/worst example would have to be the Barton Highway. It’s that narrow stretch of a thing that has been connecting impatient drivers from Yass or Canberra, with each other, for too many lifetimes.

It’s like there’s a sign at both ends, in the middle and everywhere else, saying: “It’s OK to drive too fast on this road, preferably with your car’s nose up close and personal with the car in front”.

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Not simply encouraged, but pretty much mandatory. Especially in wet weather and when you’re a P-plate driver. P standing for Perfect. Duh.

People who have a say in these sorts of things have been promising to add lanes on to the Barton for as long as there’s been vegemite on toast. Government after government, politician after politician.

They take so many pictures of themselves with shiny shovels and ribbon-cutting scissors that they could well abandon their political dreams and go into the shiny-shovel-digging-ribbon-cutting business. But no, it’s time to cut to something else – like the chase.

Highway from air

Well, it looks good from the air. More Barton Highway being rolled out – but can more Barton ever be enough? Photo: File.

Enough is enough. How long is it going to take to finish this thing? Is it a size thing? Your bulldozer/bitumen leveller thingy/fluoro jacket is bigger than your colleague’s? Size isn’t everything.

Actually it isn’t when you’re stuck behind a multi-level sheep truck watching lambs being roasted in the hot sun as their mums bleat because they know where they’re going. (OK, maybe they don’t but it sounds like they do, all sandwiched together and not in a good way.)

Meanwhile, behind you, a Perfect driver is trying to get up close and personal with you, at 120km/h when you’re only going 110 – when the speed limit is 80km.

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The plonking of the new Murrumbateman school right on the side of the highway, and reducing the speed limit down to 40km, hardly makes it worth getting into the car at all. Just stay in bed and dream abut driving too fast to work. Think of all the money you’ll save in speeding fines.

Maybe they’re building a road for the road? There are always tons of utes on the road that looks finished but it’s not because the vehicles on it are those B&I (Busy and Important) ones – you know, the ones that even more men in fluoro stick silly little red lights on top of complete with blaring siren-ettes. (The noisy things, not the women.)

Crane over building

One of your author’s favourite cranes – it regularly hovers over Dickson adding bits to the shopping centre there that seems to be taking as long to build as the Barton Highway. Photo: Sally Hopman.

But it’s not just NSW to blame. Canberra, you too seem not to be a fan of finishing stuff. Starting stuff, sure, that’s something you reach great heights at, but your finishes need work.

But you’re excused. You can excuse anything that involves a crane.

When you turn off/are towed off the Barton and start the crawl into Canberra, it’s Crane City. (Crawl because if you drive too fast you might miss out on a crane sighting – and we’re not talking big birds here).

Seems I’m not the only one who has a thing for cranes. When I slow down to look at them as I drive down Northbourne, I always get a beep or 50 of approval from the cars behind, also obviously enjoying the view and slow jaunt into town.

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I too am amazed,, but not surprised, about the amount of time infrastructure development. In the case of the Barton Highway, though, I do have some sympathy for the people doing the work. Remember all the rain we’ve had over the last couple of years? Plays havoc with road construction.

I’m just grateful that they are finally improving that road even if they did start several decades late. Maybe putting the school right on the highway was to help with the argument for the bypassing of Murrumbateman sooner.

Once the Barton’s duplication is complete I hope they move the equipment straight to either the Kings or Monaro Highway and begin duplicating there.

In a relatively rich country it’s an embarrasment that there is only one decent road into it’s capital city.

It seems to take an inordinate amount of time to do any major projects in this region.

With the Barton Highway duplication, we drove past the work site in March 2022 on the way to Melbourne and then in December 2022 on the way to Tasmania. Didn’t look much different in nine months.

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