Happy 75th Birthday to the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Posted by redracer on March 19, 2007
Today is the 75th anniversary of the opening of the magnificent Sydney Harbour Bridge – the one you always see as the base for spectacular fireworks during the world’s first New Year’s celebrations. The planning & construction of this huge structure in just 6 years using the technologies available in the 1920/30’s is just amazing, and it was the city’s tallest structure until 1967. It is still the widest long span bridge (49m – there are 8 lanes of traffic and two railway lines) and the largest steel arch bridge (503m) in the world :-) It is 134 m above the sea level, weighs over 50,000 tone and was put together with 6 million rivets, of a size larger than had ever been used before. Before the opening, 96 steam locos were placed end to end across the bridge to prove it’s structural integrity. The cost was tendered at £4.2 million in 1924 and ended up costing just over £10 million. The loans taken out by the Government of the day to pay for the bridge were not fully paid back until 1988. A toll was levied to help cover these costs (originally 6 pence for a vehicle and 3 pence for a horse and rider, who are now banned!!) and is currently $3 for southbound traffic only. It was continued after the loans were paid back to help cover the cost of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, which commenced construction in 1998 and was opened in 1992. This 4 lane road-only tunnel has helped to take pressure off the bridge which has gone from 10,900 cars per day in 1932 to over 160,000 now.
Some little known facts …
- the 89m twin granite pylons at either end serve no structural purpose and are there just to visually balance the bridge – they do not touch the bridge itself (except for the roadway) and were not originally part of the design but were added later as the designers though the arch only looked ‘incomplete’ !! There is a museum and tourist centre with a lookout in the southeastern pylon, and the view point is well worth the 200 steps you have to climb. You have one of the best views of the Sydney Opera House from the top. Speaking of climbing, another very popular past-time is the tours that are conducted climbing along the top of the arch to the apex of the bridge (day and night climbs are available).
- the bridge originally had 2 railway lines, 4 road lanes and 2 tram tracks. In 1958 when Sydney’s tram system was in decline, these two lanes on the eastern side were replaced by roads that connect to the Cahill Expressway that curves over Circular Quay railway station. The 4 wide traffic lanes were also later changed to 6 narrower ones.
- plans were originally started in 1912, but were delayed until 1992 due to World War I.
- even though the original designs was drawn up as a cantilever bridge, by the time approval was given by the Government for construction, this type was deemed to be too ‘old fashioned’ looking and the eventual design was ‘copied’ off a railway-only bridge in New York called Hells Gate Bridge.
- the route across the bridge is designated as a ‘stock route’, which means that livestock may be herded across the bridge between the hours of midnight and dawn, and after having giving notice of intention to do so. However, this has not taken place for about fifty years.
- 3 of the road lanes are reversible in direction, depending on peak hour traffic requirements – the normal configuration is 4 lanes each direction.
- it takes around 1 year for washing & painting of the bridge, and is a continuous process as once the workers have reached one end, they go back and start from the other end again.
- famous Australian actor Paul Hogan, of ‘Cocodile Dundee’ fame, was originally a bridge rigger before turning to comedy and TV.
As part of the birthday celebrations, the bridge was closed all day on Sunday the 18th for the first time since it’s opening, and over 250,000 enjoyed the experience of walking across the bridge using the full roadway. You really do not realise the full impact of the immense size of the bridge, unless you do two things …
- walk along George Street though ‘The Rocks’ area until you reach Hickson Road and continue right to the end of Dawes Point next to the southern pylons, and then look UP :-) This will give you an idea of the height and length of the bridge. You can also do this on the other side at Milsons Point.
- go back to Argyle street and follow the signs that direct you to the stairs that will take you to the eastern walkway (the western side walkway is supposed to by for bicycles only). This is also the way to access the pylon lookout. The surface of the bridge is curved, so that you can tell when you at the middle. You will be surprised to find that from the time you got onto the bridge itself, to walk half way across has taken nearly 30 minutes – that shows you actually how long it is. You can also climb to the pathway from near Milsons Point station on the other side.
photo thanks to Greg O’Beirne
I hope this has been of interest to you, and that you will be able to visit one of Sydney’s most famous landmarks in person one day.