|THE SECOND SPIT BRIDGE
As early as 1927, only three years after the first bridge was completed, it was noted that the amount of traffic using the bridge was higher than expected and the subsequent revenue from tolls providing a financial boon. Use of the bridge had risen by 60% over that of the punt for the year prior to the bridge opening, but with this improved access came problems of a different kind. It was noted at the time that:
While the bridge solved a traffic problem which existed prior to its construction, it has created a traffic problem of its own, because of the facility it provides for people desirous of travelling to Manly and the many beaches to the north. (Bickford 1927:13).
In 1934 a proposal was put forward to widen the existing bridge. At a public meeting held at Manly one year later, it was moved that the Government be approached to construct a new bridge. Congestion from increasing traffic, particularly at the weekends, was the reason put forward (Roads and Maritime Services 279.167). Four years later the Manly Council and Manly-Warringah Chamber of Commerce again called for a replacement but were informed by the Minister for Transport that "there was no immediate possibility of any action being taken to widen the bridge, or to provide a new bridge" (Roads and Maritime Services 279.167).
Not all parties however, wanted a new bridge to go ahead. The Warringah Direct Transport League campaigned against further bridge works at The Spit, preferring instead that a new Middle Harbour bridge be built further west connecting Sugarloaf Point and Seaforth, thus leaving the current bridge to deal with local traffic only (Daily Telegraph, 7/7/39).
Road users weren't the only ones to find fault with the bridge. The line of the navigation channel meant larger vessels, such as the Showboat 'Kalang', experienced difficulty in squaring up to the bridge opening as they passed from the upstream side. A rocky projection extends into the channel requiring vessels to change their line of approach causing additional delays not experienced by smaller craft (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1122).
In 1940 the Main Roads Board commissioned a survey of The Spit and its surrounds for the purpose of building a new bridge with an improved road alignment. Construction could not go ahead until after the end of World War II but preliminary designs had been developed by 1944 (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1122). As plans proceeded for another low-level bridge, deputations from councils and community groups continued to push for the erection of a high-level bridge, but to no avail. In 1948 the response from the Department of Main Roads maintained that a high-level bridge would be best placed further up Middle Harbour, serving a larger number of communities. Given this, and the constraints of local topography, it was felt that "the high cost of building a high level bridge and the resultant spoliation of The Spit area for recreation purposes would not be warranted" (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1122).
By 1949 the Government officially acknowledged that the old bridge had become inadequate to meet the demands of traffic. Frequent openings for marine vessels were causing long delays and the matter was receiving unfavourable publicity. Due to the coverage given to one particular delay an Alderman for the Mosman Council was led to pose a "Question Without Notice", suggesting that the matter of bridge delays be further raised at the next Committee Meeting (TD, 1/6/49).
Shortly afterwards the announcement was made that a new bridge was to be built. It would be only slightly higher than the old one, requiring an opening span for large vessels to pass through. Most community groups and local residents remained unconvinced that a new bridge of this nature would alleviate any traffic problems.
Owing to excessive cost in erecting a structure sufficiently high to avoid the necessity for an opening span, there will still be traffic hold-ups - improved mechanical devices for opening the bridge will no doubt, reduce the duration of these, but some nuisance will still be caused. (TD, 17/6/49).
The number of road users was considerably higher than that of marine craft and the paper further added that: "Attention should be given to the possibility of reducing the extent and frequency of these hold-ups by restricting the hours, - during which water transport may pass under the bridge. It seems rather absurd that one small craft may at will hold up possibly hundreds of vehicles on the road." (TD, 17/6/49).
Details of the new design, including an artist's impression of the finished structure, were published in December 1949. This described the bridge as being of a more substantial nature than its predecessor (concrete construction), twice the width and "of better appearance" (Main Roads, 1949: 48-50).
In May 1950 the first advertisements were placed calling for tenders (from Australia and overseas) for the construction of a low-level, opening span bridge at The Spit. The closing date was in October 1950, but at the request of some international companies, an extension of six weeks was granted to allow time for their engineers to visit the site (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1122).
Public agitation against the chosen design continued unabated throughout the tendering period but by early 1951 most had admitted defeat. A spokesperson for the National Roads and Motorists Association (NRMA) stated that another open-span at The Spit was a waste of money but the contracts had already been let. He further added that:
We did everything we could to protest against perpetuating the existing evil of an opening span.
In the same article the current Secretary of the Main Roads Department assured the public that the new bridge, expected to be finished within four years, would eventually serve only local traffic once an additional bridge was built elsewhere.
The successful tender, announced in early 1951, came from an English firm, The Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company, Darlington. Two contracts were let, the first of which was for the manufacture, supply and delivery of the metalwork and machinery for the proposed steel and reinforced concrete bridge, while the second was for its construction. Most parts of the bridge were to be prefabricated in England and the value of Contract No. 1 was 173,361 5s. 7d pounds. quoted in pounds Sterling. The second contract, for construction, was for 384, 981 12s. 10d pounds. was in Australian pounds (Main Roads, 1951: 125). Due to the position of the bridge both Mosman and Manly Councils were listed as the local municipal authorities.
The new bridge was to be built downstream of the existing wooden structure, and would be higher and wider, carrying four lanes of traffic and two footways. Designed by the Department of Main Roads (DMR) the bridge would be of concrete and steel with seven plate girder spans and one opening span, a total of 745 feet in length. The opening span would be an electrically driven single-leaf bascule that would allow marine traffic to pass through. All of the superstructure was to be steel, while the substructure was concrete. Depending on the position of the piers some foundations would sit on bedrock (up to 100 feet below the water) and the rest on concrete piles. Once finished the bridge would need an operator, housed in a control cabin with views over both harbour and road traffic. It was anticipated that opening the span and letting water traffic through would take no longer than three minutes (DMR, 1949:48- 50). In addition work was also to commence on improving the road approaches, finally eliminating the steep one-way roads with hair-pin bends that were still in use on the Manly side (Sunday Herald,19/8/51).
Work on the bridge site was carried out under the supervision of DMR Metropolitan Engineer, Mr. L. Hawley in conjunction with the contractor, The Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company (CBEC). As noted above most materials were to be supplied from England. All steelwork was to be prefabricated and finished in England, minimising the amount of work to be done on site (DMR, 1959: 81). Construction work commenced in September 1952 and almost immediately problems arose which were to be the start of many in the years ahead. Minor complaints were received from residents protesting about excessive smoke from the cranes and the company worked on alleviating such problems (Sydney Morning Herald, 13/12/52). By 1954 the first of numerous disputes between workers and the company had arisen.
In February 1954 the Australian Workers Union wrote to the Department of Main Roads asking them to make more land available near the bridge to build amenities for workers. The employer had been unable to provide adequate facilities due to the limited space and this had caused
Much discontent...among members of this Union because of the inadequate provision of washing facilities, dressing rooms etc. (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1188)
Photographs taken of the bridge under construction show just how limited this space was. Historic Plate 2.5 shows the northern shore as a crowded mix of small buildings, materials and plant. Space was at a premium and important tasks were performed on location. Another image, dated to 1957, shows long sections of metal-work laid out awaiting checking of the welds by 'cobalt-ray photography' (See Historic Plate 2.6).
During the year problems over labour intensified. A crane-driver was sacked, leading to a month long strike. Disruptions to progress were attributed to union "go-slow" tactics and rolling strikes and when reported in Hansard the Australian spokesperson for the company was quoted as saying that
In forty-five years of bridge building I've never seen as much trouble as I've seen in the eighteen months I've been on this job (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1226).
By 1955, the expected completion date, the bridge was still not finished. One Alderman from Manly Council moved that the Council ask the Government to cease work and write the bridge off as a loss. He argued that by the time it was finished it would be obsolete and the budget had already blown out severely (DT, 19/10/55). The motion was defeated but it must have reflected what many in the community were feeling about the continual delays and rising costs of the project.
In a communication with the DMR, Mr Clinch, Chief Bridge Engineer, summed up the delayed progress of works as resulting from a combination of factors including industrial troubles, lack of suitable plant and delays in getting an active start on the contract (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1226). In January local supplies of cement were no longer available and the company had to import 1000 tons from England, again causing delays. The industrial dispute from 1954 involving crane-drivers led to a ruling from the Federal Conciliation Commissioner ordering all three unions involved in bridge works to attend a compulsory conference on the dispute and for those still on strike to return to work (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1226).
Another problem for the employers was what they considered to be high rates of absenteeism. Cleveland Bridge and Engineering again wrote to the DMR in May 1955 stating that considerable delays had resulted from an accumulated loss of work hours. To combat the problem they proposed that an additional one hour of overtime be worked each day. They also introduced a 'bonus' scheme whereby those workers who took no sick leave in a 12 month period, would at the end of a year's service be paid for the five days instead (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1188).
By November, realising the bridge could not be completed within the stated time, the CBEC officially requested an extension of the contract period to July 1958 (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1188). This obtained they continued, despite further set backs. Poor weather and industrial strife had delayed work on the foundations and again in 1956 there were more problems. A strike by 12 men over pay rates halted all work on the bridge. As they were already receiving above award rates of pay, their claims were not viewed favourably.
Industrial troubles were not the only cause for delays. Bridge work was also hampered by engineering problems and it became necessary to make certain changes to the original specifications and work schedules. Construction of the new bridge required the cylinder piers to be sunk only 20 feet away from the main pier (bascule support) of the older structure. As it was still in operation, maintaining its stability was a prime safety concern. Earlier it had been considered that new foundations could be built without 'undue risk' to the stability of the old bridge, as plans showed the piles were driven to the rock level. No borings had been carried out in the 1940 survey conducted by the Main Roads Board when the new bridge line was under investigation so it only became apparent as construction progressed that the foundations rested essentially on sands. To combat this, new foundations were sunk to a greater depth increasing costs in itself. Then to limit the potential for subsidence from shifting sands, mechanisms to maintain air pressure in the cylinders (thus limiting sand moving up the columns) and temporary supports for the old bridge costing 3500 pounds allowed the work to continue (Roads and Maritime Services 279.167).
The weather also helped to create some delays. Floating pontoons were used to move materials about the site and to lift bridge components into place; large swells and windy conditions on the harbour often made it impossible to carry out these operations. When, in August 1956, the contractor was ready to lift the bascule into place, the weather was so bad that the task was delayed until mid-October (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1188). Some two years later it was still not in position. Finally in June 1958 another attempt to place it went forward. The trials of the project were followed with great interest in the press and the Sydney Morning Herald carried the story of the impending lift. The Titan, the largest floating crane on the harbour with a capacity of 120 tons, would attempt to lift the bascule from the nearby span where it had been assembled. Taking a few hours to complete this time it was successful (SMH 17/6/58). The bridge was then closed to shipping for two weeks while final adjustments were completed.
As the July 1958 deadline approached bridge work was again behind schedule. To speed up progress the CBEC introduced a night shift in early June (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1188). Other problems were now to force delays, this time in relation to the roads. Continued campaigning by local residents and Mosman Council helped to gain a last minute reprieve for recreational land on the Reserve forming part of the intended alignment for the southern approach. At this late stage the Department of Main Roads agreed to change their plans, saving a larger portion of the Reserve and reducing considerably the number of pine trees that were to be removed (TD, 13/6/58).
Meanwhile work continued on the northern shore. An aerial photograph published in 1951 showed the newly planned route which cut considerable distance off the existing road approach and eliminated the need to negotiate the difficult hair-pin bends (See Historic Plate 2.7). Substantial road-works were carried out to cut through the rocky cliffs leading to the northern approaches.
On Wednesday afternoon, on the 19th November 1958 the new bridge was finally opened to traffic for the first time, but with no official opening ceremony. Only Sydney-bound traffic could use the bridge until a temporary connection with the northern approach was completed (DT, 19/11/58). Scheduled to open at 3.00 pm, the opening actually occurred some fifty minutes earlier, disappointing numerous onlookers, and some guests, who arrived at the well publicised later time. As one man commented
I've been waiting seven years for this day and the show kicks off early (DT, 20/11/58).
The first to cross the bridge were two young cyclists who raced ahead of the waiting cars. At 4.00 pm foot traffic was allowed onto the bridge and a Miss Dorothy Riddle was reported as the first pedestrian. Apparently Miss Riddle had promised her father (deceased ten years earlier) that when a new bridge opened she would cross in his place. Mr. Riddle had apparently built the first house at The Spit in the 1880s when only the hand operated punt was in use. He had attended the earlier bridge opening in 1924 as a guest of honour (Sunday Telegraph, 23/11/58).
The final cost of the bridge was approximately 1,100,000 pounds, well over the budget projections. The bridge had taken four years longer to complete than anticipated and it was reported that during construction a total of 12 months had been lost due to 33 separate industrial disputes while difficulties in constructing the foundations had also caused delays (DT, 20/11/58). Work was continuing on the road approaches and would be finished some time in early 1959. A photograph of the two bridges taken in November 1958 shows the old bridge still in use and one of the floating pontoons used for construction still at the site.
Even as late as November 1958 some residents still hoped that the old bridge would be retained to carry additional traffic over the narrow waterway. The Daily ran a story at this time noting that the old bridge was to be put up for sale. Mosman Council had decided against keeping the structure and it was now to be offered for sale by the builders. They suggested that it was worth 15,000 pounds "on the spot" or else it could be broken up and delivered. A representative of the builders, Cleveland Bridge and Engineering, said that the original bridge was in perfect condition (TD, 21/11/58).
After its first morning in operation a small news item was carried in the Sydney Morning Herald under the caption "Bridge Opening Delays Traffic" (SMH 21/11/58). A barge scheduled to travel under the bridge at 6.45am had been delayed and when the opening span was lifted only half an hour later city-bound traffic was stalled stretching back over a mile. Senior traffic officers and police stated however, that the opening had gone very well and expected traffic to run more smoothly in the future (SMH 21/11/58). Some minor teething problems were experienced with getting the bascule to close smoothly over the next few weeks and some modifications were carried out (Roads and Maritime Services 279.1188).
The local paper was a little more enthusiastic in its coverage of the bridge's opening. A piece entitled "At Last! New Spit Bridge is Opened" also ran on November 21st. Although the northern approaches were not completely finished the bridge was finally opened to through traffic (TD, 21/11/58).
It was now possible to start work on the demolition of the old bridge, expected to take up to five months (SMH, 27/2/59).
More thorough bridge specifications and construction details are published in Main Roads (March 1959).