Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge



From the Sydney CBD side, motor vehicle access to the bridge is normally via Grosvenor Street, Clarence Street, Kent Street, the Cahill Expressway, or the Western Distributor. Drivers on the northern side will find themselves on the Warringah Freeway, though it is easy to turn off the freeway to drive westwards into North Sydney or eastwards to Neutral Bay and beyond upon arrival on the northern side.

The bridge originally only had four wider traffic lanes occupying the central space which now has six, as photos taken soon after the opening clearly show. The width of the lanes now is so small that buses passing each other in adjacent lanes do so a few inches apart.

In 1958, tram services across the bridge were withdrawn and the tracks replaced by two extra road lanes; these lanes are now the leftmost southbound lanes on the bridge and are still clearly distinguishable from the other six road lanes. Lanes 7 and 8 now connect the bridge to the elevated Cahill Expressway that carries traffic to the Eastern Distributor.

In 1988, work began to build a tunnel to complement the bridge. It was determined that the bridge could no longer support the increased traffic flow of the 1980s. The Sydney Harbour Tunnel was completed in August 1992. It is intended for use only by motor vehicles. Before it was officially opened for use, the tunnel was made open for pedestrian access, with people on that day able to walk down the tunnel's roadway.

The Bradfield Highway is designated as a Travelling Stock Route which means that it is permissible to herd livestock across the bridge, but between midnight and dawn, and after giving notice of intention to do so. In practice, due to the high-density urban nature of modern Sydney, and the relocation of abattoirs and markets, such an event has not taken place for approximately half a century.

Tidal flow

The bridge is equipped for tidal flow operation, permitting the direction of traffic flow on the bridge to be altered to better suit the morning and evening rush hours' traffic patterns.

The bridge has eight lanes in total, numbered one through eight from west to east. Lanes three, four and five are reversible. One and two always flow north. Six, seven and eight always flow south. The default is four each way. For the morning rush hour, the lane changes on the bridge also require changes to the Warringah Freeway, with its inner western reversible carriageway directing traffic to the bridge lane numbers three and four southbound.

The bridge has a series of overhead gantries which indicate the direction of flow for each traffic lane. A green arrow pointing down to a traffic lane means the lane is open. A flashing red 'X' indicates the lane is closing, but is not yet in use for traffic travelling in the other direction. A static red 'X' means the lane is in use for oncoming traffic. This arrangement was introduced in the 1990s, replacing a slow operation where lane markers were manually moved to mark the centre median.

It is possible to see odd arrangements of flow during night periods when maintenance occurs, which may involve completely closing some lanes. Normally this is done between midnight and dawn, due to the enormous traffic demands placed on the bridge outside these hours.


There is currently a toll of $3.00 for all vehicles headed into the CBD (southbound). There is no toll for northbound traffic (though taxis travelling north may charge passengers the toll in anticipation of the toll the taxi must pay on the return journey). There are toll plazas at the northern and southern ends. The two eastern lanes (which continue over the Cahill Expressway at the southern end of the bridge) have their tollbooths at the northern end, while the other southbound lanes (for CBD traffic) are serviced by tollbooths at the southern end of the bridge. There is a bridge-long median strip between lanes 6 and 7 to separate traffic which has already paid the toll (at the northern end) from other southbound traffic (which must pay the toll at the southern end).

The toll was originally placed on travel across the bridge, in both directions, to recoup the cost of its construction. This cost was recovered in the 1980s, but the toll has been kept (indeed increased) by the state government's main roads infrastructure department (the RTA) to recoup the costs of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel.

After the decision to build the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was made in the early 1980s, the toll was increased (from 20 cents to $1, then to $1.50, and finally to $2 by the time the tunnel opened) to pay for its construction. The tunnel also had an initial toll of $2 southbound. After the increase to $1, the concrete barrier on the bridge separating the Bradfield Highway from the Cahill Expressway was increased in height, because of the large numbers of drivers crossing it illegally from lane 6 to 7, in order to avoid the toll. The toll for all southbound vehicles was increased to $3 in March 2004.

Originally it cost a car or motorcycle six pence to cross, a horse and rider being three pence. Use of the bridge by bicycle riders (provided that they use the cycleway) and by pedestrians is free. Later governments capped the fee for motorcycles at one-quarter of the passenger-vehicle cost, but now it is again the same as the cost for a passenger vehicle.

In July 2008, new electronic tolling will be introduced and will eventually replace all booths with E-tag lanes. [ [ Cashless Harbour Bridge one step closer - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) ] ]


Pedestrian access from the northern side involves climbing an easily-spotted flight of stairs at Milsons Point. Pedestrian access on the southern side is more complicated, but signposts in the Rocks area now direct pedestrians to the long and sheltered flight of stairs that leads to the bridge's southern end. These stairs are located near Gloucester Street and Cumberland Street.

The bridge can also be accessed from the south by getting on Cahill Walk, which runs along the Cahill Expressway. Pedestrians can access this walkway from Circular Quay by a flight of stairs or a lift. Alternatively it can be accessed from the Botanic Gardens.


The bridge lies between Milsons Point and Wynyard railway stations, located on the north and south shores respectively, with two train lines running along the western side of the bridge. Milson's Point station is part of the North Shore line.

In 1958, tram services across the bridge were withdrawn and the tracks they had used were removed and replaced by two extra road lanes; these lanes are now the leftmost southbound lanes on the bridge and are still clearly distinguishable from the other six road lanes. The original ramp that took the trams into their terminus in the underground Wynyard railway station is still visible at the southern end of the main walkway under lanes 7 and 8 although the tunnels have been sealed off.


In 2006, the first complete repainting for many years commenced. A reason for the decision was the concern that weight of the many layers of paint acquired over the years might be having a destructive effect on the bridge's structure. Because of the previous regime of continuous maintenance painting with lead-based paint, precautions had to be taken to prevent falling paint from contaminating the harbour. This required that each section being painted be sealed off and blasted to remove old paint which was then extracted by vacuum.


The south-east pylon served for many years as a lookout and tourist attraction for Sydney, containing a number of telescopes and antiquated arcade games which operated on pennies, long after that currency had gone out of circulation. The couple that ran this tourist venue also kept a number of white cats which gave the interior of the pylon a memorable odour. The pylon has recently been renovated and returned to its tourist function. [Pylon Lookout, [] ]

Since 1998, BridgeClimbBridgeClimb, [] ] has made it possible for tourists to climb the southern half of the bridge. Tours run throughout the day, from dawn to dusk, and are only cancelled for electrical storms or high wind. Night climbs are also available. Groups of climbers are provided with protective clothing appropriate to the prevailing weather conditions and are given an orientation briefing before climbing. During the climb, attendees are secured to the bridge by a wire lifeline. Each climb begins on the eastern side of the bridge and ascends to the top. At the summit, the group crosses to the western side of the arch for the descent. Each climb is a three-and-a-half-hour experience.

In December 2006, BridgeClimb launched an alternative to climbing the upper arches of the bridge. The Discovery Climb allows climbers to ascend the lower chord of the bridge and view its internal structure. From the apex of the lower chord, climbers ascend a massive staircase to a platform at the summit.

The cost for the climbing excursion is from $179 to $295 AUS and there are some restrictions in place. Visitors are not allowed to carry a camera or any other personal gear. Climbers are required to pass through a metal detector and take a breath-test for alcohol. However, the authority in charge takes photos which are available to those who undertake the climb.


Since the opening, the bridge has been the focal point of much tourism and national pride. In 1982, the bridge celebrated the 50th anniversary of its opening. Once again, the bridge was closed to vehicles and pedestrians allowed full access for the day. The celebrations were attended by Edward Judge, who represented Dorman Long.

Australia's bicentennial celebrations on 26 January 1988 attracted large crowds in the bridge's vicinity as merrymakers flocked to the foreshores in order to view the events on the harbour. The highlight was the biggest parade of sail ever held in Sydney, with square-riggers from all over the world, surrounded by hundreds of smaller craft of every description, passing majestically under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The day's festivities culminated in a fireworks display in which the bridge was the focal point of the finale, with fireworks streaming from the arch and roadway. This was to become the pattern for later firework displays.

During the millennium celebrations in 2000, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up with the word "Eternity", as a tribute to the legacy of Arthur Stace a Sydney artist who for many years inscribed that word on pavements in chalk in beautiful copperplate writing.

In May 2000 the bridge was closed to vehicular access for a day to allow a special reconciliation march—the "Walk for Reconciliation"—to take place. This was part of a response to an Aboriginal Stolen Generations inquiry, which found widespread suffering had taken place amongst Australian Aboriginal children forcibly placed into the care of white parents in a little-publicised state government scheme. A large number of Australians walked the bridge in a symbolic gesture of crossing a divide.

During the Sydney 2000 Olympics in September and October 2000, the bridge was adorned with the Olympic Rings. It was included in the Olympic torch's route to the Olympic stadium. The men's and women's Olympic marathon events likewise included the bridge as part of their route to the Olympic stadium. A massive fireworks display at the end of the closing ceremony ended at the bridge. The East-facing side of the bridge has been used several times since as a framework from which to hang static fireworks, especially during the elaborate New Year's Eve displays.

In 2005 Mark Webber drove a Williams-BMW formula-one car across the bridge.

75th anniversary

In 2007, the 75th anniversary of its opening was commemorated with an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, called "Bridging Sydney" [] . An initiative of the Historic Houses Trust, the exhibition featured dramatic photographs and paintings with rare and previously unseen alternative bridge and tunnel proposals, plans and sketches.

On 18 March 2007, the Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrated its 75th anniversary. The occasion was marked with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the governor, Marie Bashir and the premier of NSW, Morris Iemma. The bridge was subsequently open to the public to walk southward from Milsons Point or North Sydney. Several major roads, mainly in the CBD, were closed for the day. An Aboriginal smoking ceremony was held at 7pm.

Approximately 250,000 people (50,000 more than were registered) took part in the event. Bright yellow souvenir caps were distributed to walkers. A series of speakers placed at intervals along the bridge formed a sound installation. Each group of speakers broadcast sound and music from a particular era (eg. King Edward VIII's abdication speech; Gough Whitlam's speech at Parliament House in 1975), the overall effect being that the soundscape would "flow" through history as walkers proceeded along the bridge. A light-show began after sunset and continued late into the night, the bridge being bathed in constantly-changing, multi-coloured lighting, designed to highlight structural features of the bridge. In the evening the bright green caps were replaced by orange caps with a small, bright LED attached. The bridge was closed to walkers at about 8.30 p.m.

New Year "Bridge Effect"

As part of the fireworks display on New Year's Eve each year since 1998, the Sydney Harbour Bridge has what is referred to colloquially as the "Bridge Effect", in which a light display on a framework is used to complement the fireworks. As the scaffolding and framework are clearly visible for some weeks before the event, revealing the outline of the design, there is much speculating as to how the effect is to be realised. The effects have been as follows:

* 1998-99 - Smiley face with hair.
* 1999-2000 - "Eternity" in copperplate writing, in honour of Arthur Stace
* 2000-01 - Rainbow Serpent and Federation Star.
* 2001-02 - Uluru
* 2002-03 - Dove of Peace
* 2003-04 - Light show
* 2004-05 - Disco ball
* 2005-06 - Love Heart (3 concentric love hearts with lights behind the middle)
* 2006-07 - Coathanger and a diamond to celebrate the bridge's 75th anniversary or Diamond Jubilee in 2007.
* 2007-08 - Hourglass.


See also

* Story Bridge, Brisbane — The other major bridge designed by John Bradfield.
* List of arch bridges by length
* Sydney Harbour New Years Eve Fireworks


Other sources

* Four papers on the design and construction of the bridge in volume 238 of the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 1935 Kinley

External links

* [ Sydney City Council]
* [ BridgeClimb]
* [,22045,5012637,00.html Sydney Harbour Bridge turns 75 - Feature from Daily Telegraph]
* [ 75th Anniversary Celebrations]

* [ Road Traffic Authority webcams]

* [ Bridge during construction]
* [ Air views of the opening celebrations, 19 March 1932] / photographed by W. E. Searle
* [ Buildings and roads around North Sydney and Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1958–1961] / Wolfgang Sievers
* [ Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Olympic Games, 19-26 September 2000] / Loui Seselja

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