By HARRY CLARKE @harrytclarke
The scenes unfolding on the Warrego Highway at Chinchilla this week would have Ludwig Leichhardt, the great German pioneer who charted the region in the 1830s, turning over in his far flung grave.
Robert “Bushy” Johnston, the bearded and wheelchair-bound local legend who was forever parked at the base of the Club Hotel stairs, would be choking on his beer.
Even the late Arthur McIntyre, the renowned local grazier who donated the first ever grandfather clock prize at the local campdraft and died only recently, wouldn’t believe his eyes.
Chinchilla, once just a speck on the map but in recent years a flashpoint of prosperity in regional Queensland, now has its very own set of traffic lights.
You read that correctly. The town known for its bustling biennial watermelon festival but loved for its quiet country charm at all other times, has grown so much that its drivers now need to be signalled when they’re crossing its busiest intersection.
The red, green and amber lights will be activated on September 1, signalling an end to a long and tedious period of roadworks where the Chinchilla Overhead Bridge meets the Warrego Highway.
During construction, the layout of that intersection seemed to change so often that the experience of driving through it was invariably confusing, occasionally farcical, always humorous and at times downright dangerous.
You’d head through the roadworks to the gym at 6am and the temporary painted lines would direct you through the intersection via one particular route.
By the time you’ve finish your workout, the road workers are jackhammering at another part of the intersection.
They’ve covered over the first set lines and painted fresh lanes to guide you through in a completely different direction.
You’d try to turn into the McDonalds drive-thru for a post-workout hashbrown, but somehow end up in the wrong lane and nearly get t-boned by a cattle truck.
The roadworks are part of a $635 million Warrego Highway safety upgrade funded 80 percent by the federal government and 20 percent by the state government.
“The $19 million Chinchilla open level crossing upgrade and Colamba Street signals project is one of 20 projects aimed at improving safety and freight efficiency on the Warrego Highway between Toowoomba and west of Miles,” a statement by the Department of Transport and Main Roads said.
2020 has certainly been eventful.
Had these traffic lights never been installed at Chinchilla, the Coronavirus pandemic would surely have been the most significant event of the year.
Maybe the flash new signals will restore a bit of sense and order to that stretch of road – but don’t hold your breath. Chinchilla loves its wacky intersections. We thrive on them. Just look at Glasson Street.
But if the past decade has revealed anything, it’s that people in this region (and drivers) can accomodate change.
No. Life in Chinchilla will never be the same now that this fancy piece of road infrastructure has been installed.
They’ll be an utter nuisance when they’re telling you to hit the brakes at the bottom of the Overhead.
But also, the lights are a symbol of progress.