Monday, June 14, 2010

Some initial investigations into the history of the Sydney-Newcastle or F3 freeway

Before the F3 there was the Pacific Highway - a wondrously snaking road that originally crossed the Hawkesbury at Peats' ferry. And what a marvellous way to cross a mighty river - slowly. Just imagine the queues at either end these days! Well the ferry ended in c1945 (although there are substantial remains at each end) and the replacement bridge is still in use. (Let's not forget the rail bridges downstream, either, and the remnants of the original rail route.) Alas the F3 did away with the old and swept in the new, but it's still interesting to reflect on how we got where we are now, and the options that were spurned.

So why replace the old road? Traffic - too much of it. I do remember the traffic jams at the Hawkesbury crossing and at Wyong. Endless jams. And my father's car boiling over in summer. One time we stopped at a creek on the old highway and topped up with pure river water, bellbirds tinkling around us. I also remember my father dodging the 20cent toll. Doesn't seem like a lot now but "toll dodging" (usually by joining or exiting the "freeway" at Mount White) remained a popular sport for years, until the toll was lifted.
Ozroads: Sydney-Newcastle Freeway
Following World War II, it was glaringly obvious that the existing route between Sydney and Newcastle, not even 20 years old by that time, was completely inadequate for the amount of traffic it carried. By 1960, traffic across the 3-lane Peats Ferry Bridge had reached a daily average of 6,600 vehicles, rising to over 18,000 per day in holiday times. The existing two-lane, winding alignment was unsuitable to carry this amount of traffic, let alone any future increase, and there was considerable local-through traffic conflict through the busy town centres of Gosford, Wyong, Swansea and Belmont.
Interesting that the government of the day considered a private toll-road at the time but was pressured by its own bureaucrats to fund it publicly, even if a small toll was still required. It would have brought forward the idea of a "public-private partneship" by some years, had it gone ahead. Of course money for infrastructure was always - and remains - the main issue in a country so big in area yet small in population.
Ozroads: Sydney-Newcastle Freeway
the DMR was always against letting the private sector construct such an important project and the commissioner of the time, Howard Sherrard, threatened to resign when the government decided it would take Solomon up on his offer. This caused the government to abandon the private sector idea, and announce in January 1962 that it had accepted a proposal from the DMR for the construction of a four-lane expressway that would not only connect Sydney and Newcastle but form part of an improved route to the north and north-west of the state. In 1965, the proposal was refined to include a new route across Mooney Mooney Creek downstream from the Pacific Hwy crossing that would render the existing Peats Ridge route redundant. However, it was recognised that construction would not be possible until at least the mid-1970's due to financial restrictions.

Although there's a lot more that interests me about the F3, I'll also link to this history of Peats Ridge Road and allow you to read the details. If you ever drive this road (which proceeds northwards from Calga to almost Ourimbah) you'll be struck by its mostly excellent construction, its width and general feeling of over-engineering for the current task. And of you are old enough to remember when it was a national highway you'll understand why! Personally I remember stopping at the Oak roadhouse at Peats Ridge (now a strip of shops including a cafe with some memorabilia to look over) on a number of occasions, including when it must have been quite fresh and new. (There's another roadhouse at the old road on the southern side of the Hawkesbury, near Brooklyn - unused and strangely moth-balled but well worth a look-see.)    

Ozroads: Former NH1 Peats Ridge Rd
Peats Ridge Road itself was constructed purposely by the DMR to take the National Highway 1 shield (then National Route 1) as the main route between Sydney & Newcastle. However, it was not given the NH1 shield until the arrival of federal funding via the National Highway system in 1974. Prior to this, the route was signposted as either 'Newcastle via Peats Ridge' or 'Sydney via Peats Ridge'.

Peats Ridge Rd carried the steadily increasing expressway traffic for 22 years (12 years as NH1) until the 7km shorter expressway route between Calga and Somersby opened to traffic. Some of the original route was retained, the 7km between Somersby and Ourimbah was duplicated and incorporated into the Sydney-Newcastle Freeway. National Highway 1 was removed from Peats Ridge Rd in December 1986

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