13 November 2023

Why the Barton Highway continues to drive us to distraction

| Sally Hopman
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New roadworks and signs on the highway

Now we know where we’re going … the new signage and section of road on the Barton Highway which opened to traffic this week. Photo: Sally Hopman.

The Barton Highway is one of those love-it-or-hate-it stretches of things. Sorry but, for me, it really is a bitch-umen thing.

I love it when people are driving properly, when no-one is sitting on your bottom, bipping at you because you’re only going 10km over the speed limit or waving at you with just the one finger. But after a while, it becomes a drag driving to work at 3 am just to avoid other drivers. Guess you can always catch up on work sitting in the Canberra car park for four or five hours, waiting for your office to open.

Not sure what it is, or whether it’s at all possible, but for the past near-10 years I’ve been travelling on it to Canberra I’ve become even grumpier – and I’m so not alone.

Sure we have bad drivers everywhere, impatient people who are convinced that the world will end if they don’t get home to watch the 7 pm ABC News, not realising that they can watch the day before’s one the next day at seven in the morning – if they stream ahead.

This crazy driving stuff can’t just be a-laned to the Barton. I know there are a couple more highways that bring out the worst in people, but what is it about this one?

Is it that it passes so many good wineries and drivers are pissed off because they can’t stop?

Or is it that they’re just would-be-if-they-could-be emu/worm farmers who have always wanted their own five-acre lump of dirt to grow stuff in, preferably in a cute little village between Canberra and Yass – I don’t know, maybe called Murrumbateman?

READ ALSO Long-awaited Barton Highway dual carriageway opens … just a little

People have been complaining about the Barton ever since it was just a laneway sprouting out from a paddock.

It’s never been wide enough – only six lanes on each side may possibly make the grade. It’s not a real highway because it only has one fast food restaurant and that’s only a few clicks after you leave Canberra’s main road. Only bad drivers use it … well, they’d know.

Yass people who first drove it when they took their newborn home from hospital are still waiting for it to be completed. (And they don’t even drive any more – the newborn does).

Last month, lots of politicians, the same number of hard hats, fluoro vests, pairs of scissors – and an inordinate amount of ribbon, lobbed on to the highway to announce that it was completed. Well, one section was.

Actually, a section of a section opened so another bit could close so traffic could be diverted to the old section while the new bits were being completed. Confused? OK, let’s start again. (Oh no we won’t: Editor).

It was a nice event, we even covered it. But last Tuesday, something odd happened, even in Barton Highway terms.

READ ALSO The self-serve myth: Can we still call it ‘service’ when we’re doing all the work?

Driving home I realised, after about 10 minutes – slow learner as well as driver – that I was driving on a new bit of the Barton Highway. It was as black as licorice, with the sweetest curves and was surrounded by signs that said things like “to Yass via u-turn bay ahead”. Was it something Canberra had said?

There were also lots of signs covered in black plastic stuff that I couldn’t read – mainly because of the black plastic stuff.

Yes, in October the VIPS declared that a section of the road would open soon but were not specific. (Turns out, according to their spokesperson, that it all depends on the weather. Who knew? We do. Now.)

So one of the most long-awaited things in the world, apart from world peace, happened, and we didn’t really know about it until it was literally, driven home.

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Lefty Boomer9:01 pm 12 Nov 23

Gotta love the Barton, ever since we did the 5am dash to Calvary in 1987 because the ED staff at Yass Hospital didn’t want my wife to deliver there. Nearly wiped out on Saleyards hill but made it. Drive it now once or twice a week, it’s fine if you maintain a sensible distance between vehicles, avoid the dusty SUV racing to work in the morning and the ute driver with a windscreen made from the glass in wing mirrors that make ‘objects may closer than they appear’. It’s all about respect.

GrumpyGrandpa1:26 pm 12 Nov 23

I’ve been driving in and our of Canberra on the Barton over the past 35 years and when I first made the trip, I had a full head of dark hair, not a worry in the world.

The Barton now stresses me and I wonder what happened to that young worry-free man?

I’m now Grumpy and confession-time here; I’m the cause of Canberra’s road rage.

I’m that guy who keep to the speed limit. I’m also the guy who merges from the left lane, maybe a tad early, to prevent you from making that Conrod straight move, where you endanger everyone’s lives by accelerating to overtake multiple cars in that 500 metres section before the two lanes become one.

Everytime I come into Canberra I’m reminded how much I hate the Barton and the behaviour of those, who have the patience of a twat.

I look forward to Utopia and a stress-free Barton experience.

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