History Behind the West Gate Freeway
The story behind the road and bridge

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Written By Sam Laybutt

 

The West Gate Freeway is an east-west freeway in Melbourne’s inner south and west, connecting the CBD and Citylink with the Princes Freeway and Western Ring Road. It traverses Melbourne’s most famous piece of infrastructure, the West Gate Bridge, after which it was named. The freeway is eight lanes wide along its entire length, and carries the M1 route marker.

 

History and Development

 

The West Gate Freeway was first conceived in the 1929 Melbourne Plan of Town Development, of which it was route #2, as a future Lower Yarra crossing and a highway utilising the State Electricity Commission reservation to connect the South Melbourne area with the Princes Highway West. It then became route F9 in the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works’ Metropolitan Melbourne Planning Scheme of 1954 and appeared as a mainly 6-lane freeway in the 1969 Metropolitan Transport Commission Plan.

 

Investigations for construction of a Lower Yarra River crossing were commenced by the Country Roads Board (CRB) in 1961/62 and in 1965 the Lower Yarra Crossing Act was assented to. This Act enabled the Lower Yarra Crossing Authority, a private enterprise, to build, maintain and charge tolls on a road bridge over the lower Yarra River. In February 1966 the Country Roads Board was appointed the constructing authority for access roads to the bridge, which would provide a freeway type road from the Princes Freeway West at Kororoit Creek and the interchange with the bridge approaches at Williamstown Road, as well as connections to the existing street system in the vicinity of Graham Street, Port Melbourne.

 

Construction of the freeway, known at the time as Lower Yarra Freeway, and the Lower Yarra Crossing commenced in 1968. The Country Roads Board completed and opened the freeway between Princes Hwy and Williamstown Road on 7 April 1971 - providing six lanes of traffic between Williamstown Road and Millers Rd and four lanes west of Millers Road.

 

For the bridge itself, a cable-stayed concrete box girder design was chosen with five spans of 112m, 144m, 336m, 144m and 112m. Two years into construction, on 15 October 1970, thirty-five lives were lost when a steel span collapsed, sparking a major inquiry. “Although many things had gone wrong, the underlying causes were a design that was proving to be unbuildable and the inadequate communication between the English designers and the Australian builders.”[1] Following the inquiries, work was resumed and the bridge finally completed in 1978. The official opening took place on 15 November 1978 at a ceremony in which the bridge was named “West Gate Bridge” and the freeway “West Gate Freeway”. From 16 November 1978 until 29 November 1985 the bridge was operated as a toll facility and In 1982 the responsibilities of the Lower Yarra Crossing Authority were transferred to the Country Roads Board, which has since become the Road Construction Authority and now Vicroads, who currently manages the bridge.

 

Upon opening of the bridge, the eastern extremity of the freeway was Graham Street, Port Melbourne, where the freeway transformed directly into Rogers St. This was the terminus of route F82, which was the operating route of the freeway, co-signed with National Route 1 upon opening. The easterly extension of the freeway, as the 'West Gate Elevated Highway', to Kings Way and Grant St was commenced in 1978[2] but it took ten years to complete. The section between Rogers Street and Montague Street was opened in 1986. East of Montague Street, the freeway was constructed as two separate carriageways, the northern (eastbound) carriageway was opened on 18 December 1987 and the southern (westbound) carriageway was completed in September 1988. At approximately the same time route F82 was decommissioned and National Route 1 became the sole continuous route marker on the freeway.[3]

 

Following completion of the freeway to its ultimate length, VicRoads then set about widening it. In July 1993 the West Gate was widened to six lanes between Millers Road and Princes Freeway West, consistent with the rest of the freeway west of the Yarra River. In February 2000 a further widening program, funded under the Better Roads Victoria program, provided eight traffic lanes and new concrete median barriers between Grieve Parade and the West Gate Bridge.

 

The construction of the Citylink tollway, completed in December 2000, has effectively extended the West Gate east to the Monash Freeway via two freeway tunnels under the Yarra River east of the CBD.

 

Future Improvements

 

Virtually since the opening of Citylink at the end of 2000 there have been discussions of enhancing the capacity of the West Gate corridor, particularly that of the bridge. The design of the bridge does not permit the addition of a second tier and thus typical proposals have either called for a duplication of the bridge or a parallel tunnel. The latest proposal to provide additional cross-river capacity involves the construction of a road tunnel between the Eastern Freeway at Clifton Hill and the Western Ring Road at Sunshine. At an estimated cost of $10 billion it is unlikely that this latest proposal will come to fruition in the near future.

 

[1] Lay, M.; Melbourne Miles: The Story of Melbourne’s Roads; 2003; p.204

[2] ibid; p.204

[3] From 1978-1988 National Route 1 had used Rogers, Lorimer, Clarendon, Market (eb) and York (wb) Streets to join Kings Way with the West Gate Freeway.

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