With congestion increasing on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1980s, the need for a second harbour crossing was pushed further.
Plans for a harbour tunnel evolved throughout the 1980s, but it was not until 1986 where concrete plans were proposed. Initially, the tunnel was to run from Hickson Road, Millers Point and run west of the Harbour Bridge. Like the final plans, it would meet the Warringah Freeway at Mount Street, North Sydney.
Source: Coultan, M. 1986. "Tunnel: how pipedream will become pipeline". The Sydney Morning Herald, March 14: 1.
Several months later, the proposal we see today was conceived in an attempt to reduce construction costs. While the motives might not be just, the decision had a long run outcome - The Harbour Tunnel would form a piece in what has evolved into Sydney's orbital network of freeways. Under the Hickson Road plan, this would not be possible.
Source: Coultan, M. 1986. "Slimmer Harbour tunnel to save $35 million. The Sydney Morning Herald, December 17: 1 & 2.
There was one proposal that was tendered by a firm that for around $100 million, four lanes could be constructed above the existing road deck to increase road capacity. This was published in The Daily Telegraph Mirror on August 27, 1992, in a special supplement to mark the opening of the tunnel.
Plans to proceed with construction were announced by the NSW State Government on April 27, 1987. This included increasing the Harbour Bridge toll from 20 cents to $1 to fund its construction. It rose to $2 by 1992.
Kirribilli residents objected to the tunnel, particularly as the air ventilation stack would be located at Bradfield Park. Today, anyone using the park would be unaware of its presence, landscaped into the terrain.
Transfield and Kumagai Gumi were awarded the contract to construct the tunnel. Construction largely took place off-site with tunnel sections built at Port Kembla, before being towed into Sydney where they were sunk into place at the bottom of Sydney Harbour. Official work commenced in 1988.
On August 29, 1992, NSW Premier John Fahey officially opened the tunnel. The opening was marred by protestors that wanted to disrupt the event. The following day, the public was invited to walk through the tunnel. The walk acted as a fundraiser for charity.
Source: Wilkins, M. 1992. "Light at the end of the tunnel...Greenies 'crash' the party". The Sunday Telegraph, August 30: 4.
The tunnel was opened to traffic at 3am on August 31, 1992. It survived its first peak hour test without glitches.
Source: de Vine, B & Toy, N. 1992. "It's Perfect: Tunnel opens with dream run". The Daily Telegraph Mirror, August 31: 1 & 2.
Like any expansion to a road, a new road will only take the pressure off an existing road for a short period of time before traffic levels return to previous levels. It's not uncommon for traffic on the Warringah Freeway to be banked "past the channel nine tower" at Willoughby in morning peak hour irrespective of whether you are bridge-bound or tunnel bound. Add the congestion once you cross the bridge, and trek down the Eastern Distributor towards Sydney Airport. An estimated 200 000 cars crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge daily at the time of opening in 1992. Today, it is estimated to be around 165 000 cars that cross the bridge. When combined with RMS data of approximately 90 000 cars that access the Harbour Tunnel, 245 000 cars cross the harbour each day.
Statistics of Interest:
- Construction costs amounted to $560 million.
- Estimated savings in travel time - 10 minutes.
- 4500 workers involved in construction along with 300 contractors.
The Daily Telegraph Mirror to mark the opening provided its readers with a special poster outlining construction.