Season 2 – Episode 01: The Sydney Harbour Bridge

We spent most of our between-seasons break in Australia, so naturally the subject of our first episode of the season should be too! This engineering monument is the world’s widest and heaviest arch bridge and the world’s 7th longest spanning, it’s on the Australian National Heritage List and the New South Wales Heritage Register: the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

This iconic bridge connecting Sydney’s Central Business District with the north shore is affectionally known as “The Coathanger” and “The Iron Lung” and has been helping residents of Sydney cross the Sydney harbour since its construction in 1932. Prior to the construction of this bridge the only route across the harbour was by ferry, and by 1927 the use of these ferries had peaked at 47 million passengers annually, which was quickly more than halved when the bridge was constructed. Although the ferry still operates today the bridge is the primary mode of transportation, with its 6 lanes of traffic plus tramlines and bike paths transporting more than 150,000 vehicles, 2004 trains, and 1,650 bicycles every single day.

The bridge was originally proposed by English born architect Francis Greenway in 1815, but official planning would not begin until nearly a century later in 1914 when John Bradfield was appointed Chief Engineer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Metropolitan Railway Construction. Bradfield’s plans were heavily inspired by the Hell’s Gate Bridge in New York City and follows a similar design, right down to the four massive pylons situated on the ends of the bridge that exist solely as engineering placebos to help the public feel more comfortable using the arch bridge. After the Australian government passed the Sydney Harbour Bridge Act in 1922 bids for this project were opened up globally garnering 20 proposals from 6 different firms, ultimately being awarded to English firm Dorman Long & Company. 

Construction cost for this project was one of the lowest we’ve ever looked at on the podcast, just $6.25 Million AUD or roughly $13.5 Million AUD today which is pretty cheap as far as bridges go! Whether this was a good deal or not this bridge had a more than 50 year long montage taking until 1988 to be paid off via the $3 AUD toll for crossing the bridge, which is today used to fund the future Sydney Harbour Tunnel project. Despite the relatively low cost of constructing the bridge annual maintenance currently costs approximately $5 Million AUD. 

“You can see it from every corner of the city, creeping into frame from the oddest angles like an uncle trying to get into every snapshot” – Bill Bryson


Image Gallery

Bridge construction diagram | Vivian on site | The infamous credit plaque | Bridge side view | Bridge side view with Sydney Opera House | Bridge construction photo | Bridge overhead photo | One of four “placebo” pylons | 1988 plaque awarded by American Society of Civill Engineers | Keystone replica


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Music by: John Julius –

Edited by: Astronomic Audio

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