A note on our recent trip… Llew and I seem to have an uncanny knack for timing journeys along the Pacific Highway with the most extraordinary downpours. Thundering rain – just deafening – would be challenging and dangerous enough along a half decent freeway, but along the Pacific Highway, a notoriously inadequate road, chock-full of black spots and now lined with modest memorials, it is hair-raising. If you want to experience true road rage, it’s a good place to start, because I never fail to throb with anger about the government’s appalling failure to upgrade one of the most, if not the most, significant highways in the country.
You have to see it to believe it. Whole sections are narrow, single carriageway death traps. Americans who travel along it must be aghast – this road would have made for a tight squeeze with horse and cart, but with the advent of the automobile, it’s become something far more sinister. Trucks constantly come booming past you, travelling in the opposite direction at such close proximity and at such speed that you cannot help holding your breath – it makes for anxious, exhausting travel. It’s not the fault of the truckies – they’re (mostly) on their side, it’s just that my bathroom is practically wider than the lane. The room for error is unacceptably, dangerously small. I think the thing that galls me most – aside from absurd conditions that mean abruptly slowing from 100 to 50 kilometres and even 40 at regular intervals as you pass through endless tiny townships (again, the problem isn’t with slowing for safety, it’s that the road between Sydney and Brisbane still goes through these places at all) – is they’re not even working on most of it. We saw lots of empty worksites – too many, and why they were empty of workers is a mystery that only makes one’s blood boil the more furiously – but what really gave us pause was our growing awareness of just how limited the (criminally overdue) upgrade still is. Even when they finally finish the parts they’re working on, there will remain whole long stretches where nothing has been done.
Better yet, we found out yesterday that the half-arsed, ineffectual measures – the cop out – successive governments have taken have created conditions far more hazardous in some sections than anyone might have foreseen. They’ve erected steel barriers down the middle of single carriageway sections, which ostensibly feel and look like a good thing. I myself thought they were better than nothing, until a paramedic we met yesterday told us how badly the barriers hamper access to crash sites.
“We can’t get to people now,” she said. “No one asked us, up they went, and now we can’t cross lanes if the incident is on the other side from our approach. Nice one.”
On the same side, of course, they can’t overtake either, because there’s nowhere to go. They’re stuck in single carriageway hell, just like the rest of us, who can do no more than hope we won’t ever need their critical services. There’s nothing to do but drive as safely as possible and hope like mad that everyone else is doing the same. It’s a wretched state of affairs.