OK, now let me begin my rant about Albury. Albury is one of the largest cities in rural NSW, with roughly 50,000 inhabitants. It is also the largest urban centre you pass through when travelling National 31 from Sydney to Melbourne. If any town was to be bypassed by a full-freeway standard road by now, you would think it would be Albury. But no, things don't work out that way.
Here is some background information on this situation. Plans to upgrade the entirety of the Hume Highway to expressway standard have been on the books since the early 1970's. Also around this time, the federal Labor government at the time designated Albury, and its twin across the border, Wodonga VIC, as an area targeted for development as a major regional centre. A university was founded, and industry was encouraged through tax concessions and subsidies to relocate to Albury-Wodonga. Discussions on a freeway system in Albury-Wodonga also took place at this time.
Together, Albury-Wodonga make up an urban area of about 80,000 people. The State of Victoria completed its bypass of Wodonga in 1985 using Federal money. The freeway ends about 2km south of the Murray River, which forms the border between the two states, and continues north along the old Hume Highway. Current plans involve extending this freeway east from this intersection, and then north along the corridor of the main interstate railway.
These plans are still on the books, and the Federal Government is relatively keen to build this bypass. This became a hot issue in Albury during the Federal election in October 1998. The local Member of Parliament is Tim Fischer, who also happened to be (at the time) the Federal leader of the National Party. A populist party called One Nation had also been making inroads into this area, and it looked as though that Tim Fischer's position before the election was rather tenuous.
In a much publicised protest during the election campaign, protestors and businesspeople in Albury blockaded Tim Fischer's local electorate office with haystacks and barricades, and demanded that Tim Fischer get Cabinet to cancel all freeway plans through Albury. Some demanded that the planned road encircle the Albury metropolitan area and completely bypass Albury; others wanted to cancel the plan altogether. The 'external bypass' option would cost several tens of millions of dollars extra. This was certain to make any upgrade to the Hume Highway through the City of Albury an explosive issue in Federal politics given that it could have involved the political fate of a Party Leader and Cabinet Minister.
Despite the bleatings of the Albury citizenry and its city council, the Feds still plan to build the freeway along the railway corridor. Personally, I don't care whether the freeway is built externally or internally, it just needs to be built, given the massive inconvenience and environmental problems caused by the Albury bottleneck.
The length of the Hume Highway through Albury is roughly ten kilometres. In that time, something like 16 traffic lights are encountered. On this journey, one traffic light took four minutes to pass through at around five o'clock in the afternoon. Albury is also a haven for highway patrolmen too, given that most of the length of the road through the town is zoned 60km/h. It really isn't fair to travellers, truckers and even the citizens of Albury for the community to have to put up with the noise, pollution and congestion generated by the Hume Highway snaking along city streets through this town.
The benefits of a bypass - whether within the metro area or external - would be enormous. The main streets of Albury could be beautified and reclaimed for the residents. The streets will be safer. With proper signage and directions to businesses, and with no 'service centres' on the freeway on the plans that I have seen, the petrol stations and fast food outlets need not suffer. With proper interchange design, local traffic can be excluded (local traffic using the freeway is a big fear of local businesses). Despite the paranoia, much of which is being whipped up by professional NIMBY's; despite the "NO FREEWAY THROUGH ALBURY" posters and billboards, no one will lose out through the elimination of this hiccough in an otherwise excellent highway.
Anyway, on with the rest of the journey. Much of the Hume Highway from Albury to Yass also leaves much to be desired, though this is slowly being fixed up. Over a distance of 271km (168 miles) from the New South Wales border to the end of the last undivided section near Yass, the highway swtiches from undivided to dual carriagway, and from dual carriageway to undivided highway no less than sixteen times. Of this 271km, 100km is now divided (though there are very few full freeway grade stretches), and 171km is still single carriageway two lane roads. Most towns and villages are now bypassed, but some villages and towns are still divided by a highway carrying in excess of 10,000 vehicles a day. Most notable of these are the 'tollgate towns' of Holbrook, Bookham and Tarcutta. You are virtually guaranteed of seeing a speed camera on the side of the road when you pass through at least one of these towns.
However, in some places, work is being done to improve National 31. Bypasses are currently being built around Tarcutta and Bookham. Grade crossings at Gundagai are being replaced with interchanges. Other smaller works are taking place along the highway.
Between Bookham and Yass, the road becomes divided dual carriageway, and stays that way all the way into the Sydney metropolitan area.
Near Moss Vale, I exit off the Hume Highway and head east on National 48 (Illawarra Highway). I basically follow the same route on this stretch as I did when I began this roadtrip. One thing I can tell you though - it's a lot harder going DOWN Macquarie Pass than it is going UP! Even staying in second gear, I found it hard to keep my speed at curves down without applying undue pressure on my brakes.
After 1,922km and 57 hours, I finally pulled into my driveway and unpacked. Phew!
© Bradley Torr. Last updated 22-Jan-2003.