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‘Every week there is evidence of another crash’: Truckies blast ‘horror highway’

horror highway

The Gregory Development Road between Charters Towers and Clermont in Queensland has been described as the ‘horror highway’, the ‘good, bad and ugly’, and as one of the most boring routes for truckies in Australia.

This 368km stretch is used by hundreds of trucks each day and is a vital inland link servicing the mining and livestock industries, as well as many others.

When floods close the coastal Bruce Highway, the Gregory Development Road becomes even more  important to enable trucks to supply places like the Atherton Tablelands, and Far North Queensland.

The route is now fully sealed but much of it has rough shoulders, the surface is uneven or “up and down” as truckies describe it, and it is flood-prone after extreme heavy rain.

A Transport and Main Roads (TMR) spokesman told Big Rigs the Gregory Developmental Road is a designated B-double and type 2 road train route.

“It has been recognised as a significant link, along with the Clermont-Alpha Road and the Peak Downs and Capricorn Highways, as a strategic connection for agricultural and freight, as well as energy resources in the Galilee Basin being developed over the next 20 years,” he said.

Most of the highway has a 100km/h speed limit but there are three short “good” sections where you can travel at 110km/h.

I drove the highway in early January after being told by numerous truckies over the past year that it was a ‘horror highway’.

They say there are good, bad and ugly parts, and describe it as boring because of the few buildings along the way.

Veteran driver Garth Roots had parked his Kenworth T909 Director at several places along the road.

“The surface is up and down and especially hard to travel on when you are loaded,” Roots, 72, told me when he stopped at a pull off area closer to Clermont.

Driver Jimmy Tatham rated the Gregory Development Road as amongst the worst he gets on.

“The Towers to Clermont road has rough shoulders in many places and is dangerous and truckies have to try and stay out of  them. And it is up and down and bouncy,” Tatham said.

Gold Coast-based driver Terry Sharp also said the road needed care when negotiating it.

“I noticed about two months ago, that whoever looks after the Gregory north of Clermont put up signs in eight or nine places, warning of ‘deep edge drop-offs please drive safely’,” said Sharp.

“Would have been a whole lot safer to fix the shoulders than leave a known hazard on a road used by type 2 road trains 53 or more metres long.”

The narrow rough 60km long stretch of bitumen, 30km north of Belyando Crossing with less than second-rate shoulders is another disgrace. An insult to all who have to use the road, he added.

“We’re obliged to drive roadworthy trucks, how about an obligation to provide truck-worthy roads.”

Another driver who didn’t want to be named said there was a standard joke between many truckies regarding the highway.

“We are asked, ‘have you taken your sea sickness tablets?’ when you drive it because it is so up and down like ocean waves in bad weather. About 50km is like going up hill and down the dale,” he said.

Testimony to how the rough shouders affect drivers are the numerous parts of truck tyres beside the highway, interspersed by a liberal sprinkling of dead animals.

Cape River rest area

There is only two stops along the highway with toilets for truckies and these are the Cape River rest area and the Belyando Crossing Roadhouse.

There are no other buildings of note with some station properties and mining operations off the road.

The Cape River rest area is 105km from Charters Towers and has a clean serviced toilet, concrete tables and seats and parking space for some trucks.

It has a Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) intelligence transport systems (ITS) device, which are now at selected locations around Queensland.

The ITS devices, in conjunction with signs on approach to the rest area, alert approaching heavy vehicles to the current status of them.

The ITS devices also include cameras which can provide a live feed back to the Townsville Traffic Management Centre for traffic monitoring purposes.

Belyando Roadhouse is 192km from Charters Towers and 172kms from Clermont and is a popular stop for trucks.

It also is the only fuel stop along the  route with the closest being the Gold City Roadhouse on the outskirts of Charters Towers and the BP Gregory Highway Roadhouse at Clermont.

I stopped off at the Belyando Crossing and spoke to worker Griffin Falknau who has been there for eight months.

“We get between 50 and 100 trucks a day stopping here for a break and to use the toilets and have a bite to  eat and a cold drink. The most favourite for drivers is a  hamburger with  the lot or steak. Many of the drivers are  regulars who come in when  they travel the highway,” Falknau said.

To be fair there are regular pull off areas for trucks with no facilities.

The TMR spokesperson said there is dedicated heavy vehicle rest areas, motorist rest areas and dual-use rest areas so drivers can stop and rest as required.

“There are two dual-use and two heavy vehicle rest areas on Gregory Development Road, between Clermont and Charters Towers. A total of 26.79km of sealing works have been carried out across six sections between Clermont and Charters Towers, completed in October and November 2021,” he said.

Traffic volume

As for traffic volume along the highway, TMR provided count data below when asked by Big Rigs.

100km/h sections:

The average daily traffic from the Clermont Connection Road to the Clermont Coal Mine Access section is 2053 vehicles (2019), with 24.45 per cent of these being heavy vehicles. Of this, trucks and buses made up 13.59 per cent, articulated vehicles were 3.99 per cent and road trains 6.7 per cent. The maximum posted speed limit along this section is 100km/h.

The average daily traffic from the Clermont Coal Mine Access to the Peak Downs Highway intersection is 1059 vehicles (2019), with 30.59 per cent of these being heavy vehicles. Of this, trucks and buses made up 15.01 per cent, articulated vehicles were 5.75 per cent and 10.01 per cent road trains. The maximum posted speed limit along this section is 100km/h. The average daily traffic from the Peak Downs Highway intersection to Kilcummin-Diamond Downs Road is 520 vehicles (2018), with 34.04 per cent of these being heavy vehicles. Of this, trucks and buses made up 10.58 per cent, articulated vehicles were 6.73 per cent and road trains 16.73 per cent. The maximum posted speed limit along this section is 100km/h,” the TMR spokesperson said.

110km/h sections:

The average daily traffic from Kilcummin-Diamond Downs Road intersection to Belyando River – Noel Burnett Bridge is 621 vehicles (2020), with 45.89 per cent of these heavy vehicles. Of this, trucks and buses made up 18.84 per cent, articulated vehicles were 6.60 per cent and road trains 20.45 per cent. The maximum posted speed limit along this section is 110km/h. The average daily traffic from Beylando River – Noel Burnett Bridge to Windsor Road is 608 vehicles (2020), with 38.16 per cent of these heavy vehicles. Of this, trucks and buses made up 13.82 per cent, articulated vehicles were 7.57 per cent and road trains 16.78 per cent. The maximum posted speed limit long this section is 110km/h. The average daily traffic from Windsor Road to Charters Towers is 861 vehicles (2020), with 16.84 per cent of these being heavy vehicles. Of this, trucks and buses made up 7.9 per cent, articulated vehicles were 2.67 per cent and road trains 6.27 per cent.

Footnote: The Gregory highway runs southward from Quartz Blow Creek, a point 31km west of Mount Surprise on the Gulf Developmental Road, via Charters Towers, to Springsure, over 900km away.

The northern section of 756km is designated by the state government as the Gregory Developmental Road.

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