brisbane river bridges old victoria bridge

Brisbane River Bridges - History of Proposed Bridges

The City of Brisbane, situated as it is on both banks of the meandering Brisbane River, which is the largest commercially used stream in Australia, has the advantage of having a very considerable part of its area lying within a mile's distance of the current of fresh air rising from the 1,500 feet width of its waters. However, if it be true that there is no rose without a thorn, then the question of communication by bridges across the river has been the thorn in the respective sides of governmental and municipal authorities since Brisbane was established.

A hundred years ago a leading alderman of Brisbane, who was also a business man, deprecated the building of a town bridge because the Corporation (Council) was earning a large amount of money from the North Quay to Russell Street ferry. The opinion of this alderman was superseded, of course, by the more progressive type in the Council and by the year 1864 the foundation stone of the first Victoria Bridge had been laid.

Communication for vehicular and pedestrian traffic between the north and south banks of the river was by the bridge which was much narrower than the present Victoria Bridge. Ferry communication also existed at several points and vehicular and passenger ferries respectively ran from Creek Street to Kangaroo Point and from Commercial Road (Newstead) to Bulimba.

One of the phenomena of human nature appears to be the acceptance of space restrictions where persons travel aboard ships, and the greater distance to be repeatedly covered in journeys, due to the non-existence of a bridge.

In the normal environment the ships' passengers would require a considerably larger area in which to live. Those in a traffic stream, if impeded by streets being barricaded for a mere half mile would loudly protest, but the absence of a bridge, although a much greater distance is involved, generally is quietly accepted. Bridges of course cannot be built in profusion but the time eventually arrives when additional bridge construction is an imperative necessity.

Such a time did come in the late 1880's. The population of Brisbane in 1880 was 30,000 and by the year 1885, due to active immigration it had increased to 50,000. Statistics officially recorded from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday 6 August 1888 regarding the vehicular traffic passing over the old Victoria Bridge resulted as follows:­

Light Vehicles, 2,467, Heavy Vehicles 930, trams and omnibuses (horse drawn) 684, saddle horses 644. Grand total 4,725. The old Victoria Bridge consisted of only one roadway for inbound and outbound traffic.

Agitation for increased bridge accommodation began to grow and became such a burning question early in 1889 that separation was threatened by the municipal wards (or divisions) of Kangaroo Point and East Brisbane (then part of the Brisbane Municipal Council) unless positive action was taken. Action was stirred in the Brisbane Municipal Council and in Parliament. Official opinion was adverse to the proposal to widen the old Victoria Bridge as the expenditure of such a large sum would not be warranted as the life of that bridge was limited.

A sum of £100,000 was placed on the estimates by Parliament for the construction of a bridge across the river. The building of a bridge is a complicated question due to the requirements which include engineering facilities (the ideal being a high bank on each side of a river), the location site which will yield the best results in traffic communication, non-disturbance of commercial interests, wharfage and shipping activities, river traffic and the overall costs of property resumptions and construction.

Plans prepared by the Queensland Government Bridges Engineer, in respect of three proposed sites for the new bridge and the respective estimated costs were as follows:

Bridge from Peel Street, South Brisbane to Ann Street, £60,000.

Bridge from Alice Street, City to Kangaroo Point (a low level swing bridge to enable ships to pass), £75,000

Bridge from George Street to Church Street (Amesbury Street on the northern side of St. Mary's Church of England) a high level bridge, £190,000.

It is of interest to record that in the year 1884 a syndicate proposed to construct a high level bridge over the river with a 100 feet clearance to enable sailing ships to pass, from near the residence of Robert Wilson at Teneriffe suburb to the correspondingly high position at Hawthorne, Brisbane. However, after some preliminary preparation the plan did not materialise.

The details, merits and demerits of the above mentioned three bridges are set out hereunder:

Peel Street to Ann Street Bridge which was the least expensive to construct was favoured by the South Brisbane Council because it would relieve, some of the congestion at the end of the old Victoria Bridge.

The Queensland Government also approved of it as a double bridge for vehicles and trains in view of the projected extension of the South Coast and Cleveland Railway lines to, Melbourne Street (which did occur in 1891) and the eventual extension of this railway to link up with the northern suburbs line between Roma Street and Central Station.

The proposed bridge would not have caused any obstruction to shipping below Victoria Bridge. However a wider view was taken by the then Mayor of Brisbane who regarded the Peel Street bridge as having little or any effect on the traffic on the old Victoria Bridge. Moreover, the residents of Kangaroo Point, East Brisbane, East Woolloongabba, Coorparoo, Belmont and the Logan Road districts would gain no advantage from this proposal.

Alice Street to Kangaroo Point. The plan provided for a low level swing bridge opposite Edward Street with a span 150 feet wide to enable ships to pass. In those times, the average shipping traffic was three or four vessels per week. The estimated cost was £75,000 and the proposal had several supporters. It would have saved a detour to the Kangaroo Point, East Brisbane, Bulimba suburbs of about three miles, and relieved traffic in Stanley Street South Brisbane. The population in these suburbs had increased 45% in two years and the ferry dues amounted to £10,000 annually.

However, the objections were that the approaches to the proposed bridge would have had to be taken back in Alice Street to the Albert Street entrance to the Botanical Gardens. Heavy compensation would be due to shipping companies nearby owing to resumptions of their properties, and the unmanoeuvreability of their vessels. The bridge would encroach on the Botanical Gardens, and if that objection were removed by carrying the work on the bridge to Albert Street, it would result in a very ugly engineering job as compared with the Edward Street proposal.

Central Bridge. This high level bridge from George Street near Parliament House to Church Street (now Amesbury Street) Kangaroo Point on the northern side of St. Mary's Church of England was estimated to cost £190,000. The committee advocating bridge connection with Kangaroo Point and adjacent suburbs favoured this site. Its advantages were claimed as non-interference with shipping, serving all the adjacent districts with quick access to and departure from the city and a big relief to Stanley Street traffic.

Two plans were submitted, one from J. Phillips and the other from the then City Engineer. The Phillips' plan was to cut off a piece of the Botanical Gardens in a line with the Queensland Club for the approach to the proposed bridge.

As this plan took so much from the Botanical Gardens it was considered impracticable. The City Engineer's plan commenced with a road in the Gardens from Albert Street to the bridge and to carry it to Church Street (Amesbury Street) Kangaroo Point. This plan was designed to go through the trees in the Gardens, the sports ground in Queens Park would not be affected and the route caused a minimum of interference; and there were no resumption costs.

The question of cost arose and the opponents laboured the point at issue. It was calculated that it would cost £100 per foot to build the bridge. Brisbane's population at that time was 100,000. Additional objections were that the grade would rise from the north (or Gardens side) unless the hill near St. Mary's Church was cut down.

Changes had been occurring in the Brisbane City Council's attitude towards the Peel Street bridge and the motion passed by a former Council was rescinded. Opinions had swung to favour the Central Bridge at Kangaroo Point. Counter deputationists had been quietly organising what proved to be the final answer to the additional bridge question. The then Premier stated that no obstruction would be permitted below the terminal port of South Brisbane, no government would despoil the Botanical Gardens and the port authorities would object to the proposed Central Bridge as it would be on the curve of the river.

He also pointed out that a constant stream of traffic would pass Parliament House and the Brisbane River was a vast national property.

Within a few days of this decision, tenders were called for the construction of a wharf 264 feet long and 41 feet wide immediately adjacent to Victoria Bridge. At the southern most end of this wharf opposite the Atlas Hotel lay berthed that famous British sailing ship Cutty Sark during November and December 1894 in which period she loaded a record cargo for a sailing ship, of 3,100 bales of wool.

Many moons waxed and waned and many tides flowed until the next bridge over the Brisbane River was built at Grey Street forty years later.

Today the Phillips plan for the bridges of brisbane has come near to fruition as the South East Freeway and Captain Cook Bridge skirts the Botanical Gardens Domain end of town before joining the Riverside Expressway built over the northern bank of the Brisbane River whilst a pedestrian walkways link Southbank .

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Bridges over the brisbane river.