Cahill Expressway

Location: Circular Quay
Completed in 1957, the Cahill Expressway was Sydney's first freeway. It is the elevated roadway on the top deck of a two level steel structure across the front of Circular Quay. Part of the southern approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it directs traffic off and onto the bridge to and from the eastern sector of the Central Business District. The twin lines of the City Circle railway and Circular Quay station occupy the middle level of the structure, the Circular Quay ferry terminals are located beyond the ground floor level of the structure. Though it is a vital link to the Sydney Harbour Bridge road system, it was not built until 33 years after the bridge was completed.

Like much of what was built in the boom years after World War II, it is extremely functional though rather ugly, and in a more environmentally and aesthetically conscious era would never have been allowed to be built. The Cahill Expressway was first proposed in 1945 as part of an overall road transport plan for Sydney. It was controversial from day one. Public opposition began when the plan was first detailed and made public in 1948, resulting in the Quay Planning Protest Committee being formed. The expressway's elevated nature, proximity to the city and utilitarian appearance led to it being described as ridiculous, ugly, unsightly and a monstrosity. Sydney Morning Herald writer Elizabeth Farrelly described the freeway as "doggedly symmetrical, profoundly deadpan, severing the city from the water on a permanent basis". The sunken section of the expressway ran between the Royal Botanical Gardens and The Domain, key green spaces in Sydney. The Botanic Gardens Trust described the expressway as destroying the spatial relationship between the two.

Despite the opposition, construction on the elevated section of the expressway went ahead in 1955. Funding was provided by the Sydney Council and the NSW Government, and the elevated section was opened on 24th March 1958. Work on the sunken section commenced immediately after, and the additional section was opened on 1st March 1962.

Demolition of the expressway has been called for since its inception, but the prospect of it ever happening had always been remote until 1994 when the Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating offered A$150 million of federal funds toward such a project. The then NSW Premier, John Fahey, rejected the proposal because of the cost and the resultant traffic problems.

Back when the expressway was first proposed and subsequently built, the Harbour was the back door to the city, being a major thoroughfare for the transportation of goods as it had been since colonial days. By 1994, that had all changed - Port Botany had replaced Sydney Harbour as the port of the city, cargo vessels were entering the harbour less frequently, harbourside land used by industry and the military was being handed back to the people for recreational use, and Circular Quay had become the city's front door. Consequently, there arose a groundswell of support for the Prime Minister's offer by many who saw the expressway as an eyesore, an unnecessary barrier between the city centre and the harbour foreshore and an inappropriate structure to have at the city's point of entry.


Cahill Expressway and railway bridges over George Street

During the run-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the Federal Government offered to go halves in the cost of removing the expressway and sinking the railway, but the NSW State Government said it could not make available the funds to finance its share, citing more important projects to spend public money on. At the time of these negotiations, the harbour tunnel was being built and it was hoped by many that the Expressway would become unnecessary, and could therefore be pulled down, but this did not happen. The constant increase in north-south traffic using the bridge and tunnel has seen Expressway traffic on the increase again after an initial drop when the tunnel first came into use. In 2005, when the suggestion was again raised, the cost of demolition was estimated at more than A$1 billion, and the traffic problems resulting from the removal of the link would be so severe, given the lack of alternate routes, that the idea again went into the "too hard" basket again.

The Cahill Freeway is the now part of The Cahill Expressway, the name by which it is now known. The Expressway starts from the Eastern Distributor and Cross City Tunnel in Woolloomooloo, and runs through a series of sunken cuttings and tunnels between the Royal Botanical Gardens and The Domain. It then runs on the original elevated section across the northern edge of the Sydney CBD at Circular Quay, and then across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to North Sydney, where it connects to the Warringah Freeway. The expressway allows travel directly from the airport to the northern suburbs without traffic signals. Traffic on the elevated section was reduced by half following the opening of the Sydney Harbour tunnel in 1992.

The Cahill Expressway is named after John Joseph Cahill who was the New South Wales Premier when the expressway was first proposed; Cahill also approved construction of the Sydney Opera House. While being a vital link in the Sydney road system, the expressway is still not well loved by most Sydneysiders, who dislike its ugly appearance and the way it divides the city from its waterfront.

The expressway has a pedestrian walkway next to the traffic lanes, where great views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the CBD can be seen. It is accessible by stairs from Macquarie St, or an elevator near Circular Quay railway station. The walkway connects with the Sydney Harbour Bridge walkway.



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