The first main roads in New South Wales were constructed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in the early 1800's, and were financed by toll booths. NSW's first main road was what is now Parramatta Road, it had toll booths at Broadway, and at A'Becketts Creek, roughly where the current Church St interchange is on the M4. Roads to Liverpool, Windsor, Penrith/Bathurst and Dog Trap Road (now Woodville Road) followed. However, roads were always poorly funded, and most were in a state that was nowhere near ideal for the traffic they carried. Prior to 1900, roads were not funded by any particular level of government, instead receiving bit piece funding here and there. As usage by the motor car increased, the condition of the roads deteriorated, and no-one wanted to pay for their upgrade. Victoria established their Main Roads Board in 1912, and lobbying for a NSW version followed in earnest. Since 1907, roads had been under the care of the local government, whose neglect of the state highways was glaringly obvious. Minister for Public Works, Arthur Griffith, led a major push for a central roads authority controlled by the state government, and financed from the moneys already given to the local governments for the upkeep of these roads. Legislation for Main Roads was narrowly defeated in the parliament year after year until the end of World War 1. Following a spate of Commonwealth controlled road projects after the war, lobbying by the NRMA and other automobile associations finally resulted in the formation of a main roads board. The enabling Act was passed on 10 November 1924 and the Board began operations in 1925.

Much was expected of the long-awaited Main Roads Board when it began its operations in March 1925. It had generous funding and three members - Under-Secretary for Local Government John Garlick (president) and engineers T.H Upton and H.H Newell - who supervised a complicated system of finances intended to spread road funding across the state. Separate funds were provided for metropolitan (County of Cumberland) and rural areas. During the first year of the Board's operation it was discovered that many of the councils did not have the equipment or skill to maintain roads worthy of motor vehicle use. This was compounded by Labour Premier Jack Lang, who refused federal subsidies for road construction and substantially cut road funding in favour of public transport. Restoration of roads finances was completed by Nationalist Premier T.R Bavin, who gained power on 18 October 1927 and returned roads to the minister for Local Government. He also ratified the Federal Aid Roads Grant, but the 6 months wait for these funds caused further delays for vital roadworks. In the interim, main roads were reclassified to clarify their significance. Thirteen thoroughfares were judged to have sufficient importance to make them state highways. These were the Princes, Hume (then Great Southern), Federal (newly constructed), Snowy Mountains (then Monaro), Great Western, Mid-Western, Mitchell, Barrier, New England (then Great Northern), Pacific (then North Coast), Oxley, Gwydir and the link between the Hume and Pacific Highways via Pennant Hills and Woodville Roads. This was confirmed by the Main Roads (Amendment) Act 1929.

During the Great Depression, a substantial amount of road funding was lost, as fines, registrations and the like were directed to other departments to cover their costs. When the federal government was forced to pay the NSW debt that Premier Lang wouldn't honour, it withdrew its federal aid funds from April 1931. The Main Roads Board was forced to retrench many staff, beginning with country engineers and surveyors. Under these circumstances, road building and reconstruction virtually came to a halt, and the numerous dilapidated bridges were left neglected. On 22 March 1932, under the Ministry of Transport Act., Lang combined main roads, railways and tramways and transferred their control to a board of eight Transport Commissioners. This legislation eliminated the Main Roads Boards but, Newell and Upton were given positions in charge of the Highways and Road Transportation Branch. This new system did not last long at all, with Lang dismissed in May 1932 for going against the federal government's Financial Agreement Enforcement Act. His replacement, Bertram Stevens, returned main roads administration to a single commissioner, H.H Newell, as a temporary measure, and subsequently created the Department of Main Roads under the Minister for Transport, Michael Bruxner. On 30 December 1932 Newell was formally appointed Commissioner for Main Roads and Upton became Assistant Commissioner.

The new department almost instantly began a mission of improving road safety and congestion. In 1933 the first set of traffic signals were made operational at the intersection of Kent and Market Streets, and by the late 1930's they were a common sight all over Sydney. In 1938, a centre line marking became standard for all sealed main roads. The 1930's also saw the development of the Pacific Highway as a through route to Queensland; however resources were heavily depleted during the war. The NSW DMR constructed a number of 'defence' routes around NSW and set up land mines in key access routes from the north. DMR engineers were called on by the federal government to help construct the Stuart Highway from Darwin to Alice Springs to help with the movement of military vehicles.

The Local Government (Town and Country Planning) Amendment Act which became law on 5 April 1945 marked a new beginning for planning in NSW, enabling local government to prepare local and joint planning schemes. As the road engineers had already recognised, the County of Cumberland was the ideal test case and was proclaimed a planning region on 27 July 1945. The City of Sydney commenced its own deliberations in November and similar plans were made for Newcastle and Wollongong in 1947 and 1948. Preparation of the scheme began in May 1947, with peak hour motorists on the Sydney Harbour Bridge subjected to an origin and destination survey to assist in planning the routes into and around the city.

The principles of the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme (CCPS) were to reorganise work, recreation, residential and industrial centres across the Sydney metro area, in order to reduce congestion in the city and provide work within range of those living in the suburbs. To address the urban sprawl resulting from planned immigration over the next 30 years, a green belt was planned, to conserve natural bushland, small market farms and provide the city with breathing space. This would be free from development, separating the metro area from self-sufficient satellite cities. From a transport perspective, the planners agreed that the existing infrastructure was insufficient to meet future transport needs, with ribbon development on the main thoroughfares, trams and vehicles competing for road space and conflict between local and through traffic. This was to be solved by construction of circumferential routes and motorways, segregating long distance traffic from local traffic.

A motorway was defined in the 1945 Main Roads (Amendment) Act as 'any main road specifically designed to facilitate the movement of motor traffic with control of access to adjoining roads and of associated frontage development thus providing for safe movement of high speed traffic'. To protect community life from the growing volume and increasing speed of motor vehicles, roads were to be treated like railways and separated from living areas as much as possible. The two types of main roads destined for this treatment were inter-regional roads designed for long-distance traffic - planned as motorways - and regional roads connecting the centre of a region with surrounding districts. The latter type would be adapted from existing thoroughfares and both types of roads were forecast to be widened to six lanes within 25 years.

During the time preceding the ratification of the CCPS in June 1951, its successful implementation had already become shrouded in doubt. There had been little preparation for the broad projected motorways and regional roads, and existing thoroughfares had deteriorated further due to heavy rains in 1949/50. Significantly, in 1957 the government decided to give priority to those proposals contained in the CCPS, which had accomplished little in six years of operation. The greatest deficiency wasn't the absence of new thoroughfares but the failure to prevent strip development along the regional road corridors. The plan was also jeopardised by a blow-out in population growth and incursion into the green belt. Assessing the situation, Denis Winston pointed out in his 1957 critique that 'the main highways into Sydney were becoming lined with wayside fruit stalls, garages, shops and factories' and identified prevention of further incursions into the green belt as the first priority. The second was keeping the highway routes free of development. 'To throw away this advantage' he wrote, 'would be the height of foolishness'. At the same time he found it most disappointing that no progress had been made towards construction of the proposed expressway system, even though reserving land for its proposed routes had caused great hardship to property owners.

The Cumberland County Council was struggling to hold onto the reserved land in the face of adverse criticism, seeking an order to commence construction of the proposed new roads. The DMR could not provide this, instead settling on three classifications according to priority; A where the land must be fully protected, B for new routes of lower priority, and C where existing roads were to be widened. The last category was returned to the Department's control and the first category was retained, so the County Council had to relax their grip on the Group B land. This was regarded as dangerous but unavoidable. Meanwhile, the first expressway to be built as part of the plan, Cahill Expressway, was opened in March 1958.

It was during the 1960's that roads in NSW made their most significant advancements, with the length of proposed expressways increased from 87 to 147 miles, extending them beyond the boundaries of the metropolitan area. Roads were clearly winning the transport battle against railways and tramways; the latter removed from all metropolitan roads by 1962. Many ambitious construction proposals were mooted in the DMR's 10 year plan for the 1960's, many never being constructed (e.g. grade separated interchanges at Warringah Road/Wakehurst Parkway and Anzac Parade/Alison Road/Dacey Avenue). On 20 May 1960, redesigned, four-lane section of the Pacific Highway near Mt White became the first motorway proclaimed in NSW.

On 1 June 1964, the Cumberland and Northumberland (Newcastle) County Councils and the Town and Country Planning Advisory Committee were replaced by the State Planning Authority, which took control of planning throughout NSW. This followed a long running disagreement between the Cumberland County Council and the state government about retention of the green belt. The government was the first to breach the Council's planning guidelines when the NSW Housing Commission planned to build in Blacktown - an area set aside for 'future growth' - and developed an estate for Minto, 'a declared rural area'. When the scheme was abandoned, few of the proposed public works had been constructed. The one electric railway extension was the completion of the City Circle line and the one expressway was the 2.5km long Cahill Expressway. To the DMR's credit, it doggedly continued to implement the plan which it had devised in 1947, meaning above all expressway construction. During the late 1960's sections of the Warringah and Sydney-Newcastle Expressways were opened, with several others opening in the early 1970's.

The year 1970 was regarded as the high point in the creation of a modern road system in NSW. Above all, significant progress was being made on expressways and financial support for the roads program was greater than it had ever been. It was not until 1972 that the DMR belatedly acknowledged the growing opposition to its program of expressways and their contribution to the overall transport scheme. Specifically, this comment was a reaction to the controversy arising from its proposal to widen Jersey Road through Paddington in 1969, which prompted a commission of inquiry. Opposition to expressways mounted after Gough Whitlam became PM in December 1972. It climaxed six months later as the Minister for Urban and Regional Planning called the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads to report on stopping all expressway construction across all states. The NSW DMR became very defensive as the public debate raged over the plans it had been nurturing for over 20 years. In 1974, the federal government created the National Highway Program, promoting interstate trade but at the same time directing funds away from urban expressway projects. The DMR did receive some support, however, from the Sydney Area Transport Study, which approved most of the proposed thoroughfares, but reduced the planned Eastern Freeway to a short elevated bypass of Bondi Junction.

The election of the Wran Labour government in NSW in 1976 ensured that the recent priorities for environmental protection and pollution control would continue, along with the moves towards urban renewal and regeneration. The Urban Transport Advisory Committee report looked for alternatives to the freeway systems, and recommended priority roads, clearways and co-ordinated signals. Also as part of the plan country roads not part of the national highway system should receive overtaking lanes and town bypasses. It was probably the deletion and sale of 'reservations for certain lengths or future freeways' by Wran's government that hurt the Sydney road network the most. In October 1977 he permanently cancelled the Western Freeway through Glebe as well as other major upgrades and deviations across the Sydney region.

Development of NSW roads stagnated during the late 1970's and early 1980's, spurned by a reduction in commonwealth public works funds. As the federal government turned its funds to the National Highway System and the DMR struggled to receive increased funding from the state government, road suffered. As a result, the only well-funded road projects were the Sydney-Newcastle and South-Western Freeways which form part of the National Highway system. From August 1981, the federal government decreed that all construction works on national highways should be tendered out to private contractors. This too went against established custom. Asserting that contract work was not always cheaper, Commissioner for Main Roads B.J Sexton expressed doubts about the new economic rationalisation. However, the objections did nothing to stop the slow conversion of the DMR to the RTA. During 1982, the DMR was forced to remove 1,250 positions and close 2 works offices at Bourke and Wentworth in order to achieve a 'lean organisation'. Nevertheless the Department was still able to keep most of its workforce, and used road making to create work for the unemployed. In June 1983, all departments were required to meet new principles laid down by the Public Accounts Committee. Among these were instructions to list all department real estate in preparation for the sale of any surplus. Commissioner Loder remarked, 'In one sense the roadworks themselves and the road reserves which contain them are real estate'. It would be even more difficult to determine which items were surplus to the Department's needs.

In 1972, Premier Robert Askin declared environment policy for NSW and passed legislation via amendments to the Clean Air and Clean Waters Acts which was immediately binding on local and state governments. This was reinforced by the Commonwealth Environment (Impact of Proposals) Act, 1974 which required that the environment be considered 'to the fullest possible extent' in all projects involving federal funds or approval. From October 1974 all NSW development projects were required to demonstrate their care for the environment through Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), regardless of their dependence on federal funding. All planning activity at this time was seriously delayed as authorities came to grips with the new procedures. Road makers were forced to adapt to the philosophy of containment as environmental issues compelled them to seek different methods of assessment. By 1983, completing reviews and following up with EIS's was customary practice. Environmental reviews highlighted traffic-calming devices which were increasingly installed in suburban streets to lessen noise as well as danger, and mitigate the ill-effects of highway noise on local residents. Some attempt was also made to assess the damage to air quality.

In September 1983, a $5 Billion five-year program announced by Premier Neville Wran went against the trend of economic restraint and revitalised road making in NSW. Almost half the yearly $1 Billion came from the commonwealth government, a significant proportion coming from the Bicentennial Roads Program established by Labour PM Bob Hawke and funded by a surcharge on motor fuel and diesel excise. NSW attracted further federal assistance through the Wage Pause Employment (1983-84) and Steel Regions Assistance (1985-86) programs. The guaranteed funding over a prolonged period of time allowed for improved planning, scheduling and coordination with other statutory authorities. A joint Labour state and federal announcement in June 1984 pledged to upgrade the Hume Highway to four lanes from Sydney to Albury by 1988.

The 'new environmentally sensitive approach to road building' and greater emphasis on customer relations were built into the DMR corporate changes of 1986 and legislated through the State Roads Act, 1986 which replaced the Main Roads Act, 1926. The resulting planning program, Roads 2000, covered the whole state with its main focus being a huge maintenance catch up in resheeting highways, replacing bridges in rural areas and the 'introduction of innovative traffic measures' in the cities.

Urban needs had been recognised by the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads report of 1975, which recommended a massive investment in urban arterial road construction. However, due to the economic restraint of the late 1970's and early 1980's, neither state nor commonwealth government would support it, and urban road problems threatened to bring Sydney to a standstill by 1987. The answer to this congestion was sought in the revival of expressway plans.

The most ambitious of the Roads 2000 works for Sydney region was the orbital, a new freeway/motorway route around Sydney, intended to link all the radial and inter-city freeways, while bypassing busy urban centres. At the time of announcement the only completed sections were short sections of the Southern Arterial and the Prospect Arterial and the Warringah Freeway. The biggest sections of the orbital were yet to be started, the South-West Motorway and the Castlereagh Freeway, planned in 1947 but not yet begun. Other Roads 2000 works included a section of the Western Freeway at Strathfield and the City West Link Stages 1 and 2 along with other arterial road upgrades.

The year 1987 was marked by the ongoing corporatisation of the DMR. Commissioner Bernard Fisk and three directors functioned as a Board and their review of management procedures presaged further change. This leadership team accepted a private sector proposal for a second harbour crossing which, instead of being a response to a government tender, was initiated by the private sector. Designed by the Transfield-Kumagai joint venture, supervised by the DMR and financed by Westpac, the Sydney Harbour Tunnel Project was ratified on 31 May 1987. A second harbour crossing was part of the Roads 2000 plan Sydney Orbital plan, but with its cost far outweighing the budget for a single year, the private sector provided the best means of funding the project. The Greiner government of 1988 actually opposed the tunnel but continued the project after a review of the legal position indicated that it would cost just as much to cancel as it would to continue. Promising to reduce the state's debt, Greiner paid the $8.3 million still owed on the Sydney Harbour Bridge Account - including the loans used to finance the Cahill and Warringah Expressways - but retained the bridge toll to contribute to the cost of the tunnel, which would also attract a toll.

A major restructure of the DMR was announced by the minister, Bruce Baird, in June 1988, barely three months after the new government took office. The new road authority; the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) amalgamated the concerns of its predecessor with those of the Department of Motor Transport and the Traffic Authority. Government policy toward roads was defined in the mission statement of the RTA: 'Manage the use, maintenance and enhancement of the State's roads and traffic system with emphasis on road safety and transport efficiency as part of an integrated and balanced transport strategy.' The RTA commenced its operations on 18 January 1989. With the change came a paradigm shift of priorities towards economic rather than social needs, which directed expenditure towards population usage. This caused road funding to be concentrated on heavily trafficked interstate and urban routes at the expense of rural thoroughfares. Financing of the urban road system was headed towards a user-pays strategy, supported by the replacement of the Roads 2000 system with the 3X3 Accelerated Road Improvement Program on 1 July 1989. The government collected 3 cents from every litre of petrol sold, adding more than $600 million to road development projects, advancing them by up to 2 years. Extension of bitumen sealing, road rehabilitation and bridge replacement were given highest priority. Significant public support and appraisal continued the program for a further three years until 1992.

The economic recession reduced finances from motor vehicle taxes and fuel levies, so the Greiner government had to find other ways of raising funds for roads. These included the sale of surplus assets, the closure and sale of the Central Asphalt Depot and the reduction of the RTA workforce. The two Sydney regions (Central and West) were amalgamated and virtually all labour was contracted out to private enterprise, leaving the RTA to concentrate on managing the road system.

Work was continued on finding cost factors that could be minimised; one of these was the death tolls on the roads. The response to a high casualty rate on the Pacific Highway was 'Roads for the Nineties', which included a further $300 million to eliminate black spots. Despite this injection of road funding, the most significant change of the 1990's was that governments finally acknowledged that continual expansion of the road system was neither economically viable nor environmentally sustainable. However, some areas had no choice but to rely on the roads. In 1991 the Greiner government identified the North Coast corridor between Hexham and the Queensland Border as one of the fastest growing areas in NSW. This changed the perception of the Pacific Highway. No longer was it seen as just a through route to Brisbane, it was now seen as the key to an economic region 700km long and up to 100km wide. The fragmented economy and high unemployment in this region increased the importance of the road.

When John Fahey assumed the premiership in June 1994 he introduced Total Quality Management principles, meaning all projects had to provide 'less financially and environmentally costly solutions' and clear benefits for the state's economic development. Examples cited were 'direct links to ports, social interaction...in remote areas, or orbital roads to keep traffic away from inner Sydney'. All works were to produce a reduction in transport costs, achieved 'by changing access rights to the road network, by constructing new and wider roads for greater accessibility between commercial activities.

Rationalisation continued under the labour government of Bob Carr, who won office in April 1995. He revised ministerial portfolios to provide greater integration in management and planning across the board. In Sydney, increased public transport initiatives assisted those in the outer suburbs who still lacked easy access to jobs and vital services. In addition, roads and transport in western and south-western Sydney and the Blue Mountains were given high priority through specific programs. New public transport infrastructure included bus priority measures, multi-modal interchanges and commuter parking. Even the privately funded M2 Motorway included bus lanes in the median between Epping and Baulkham Hills.

From 1995-96 a ten year upgrade of the Pacific Highway was financed, mainly by the state but with some help from the commonwealth government. This program had converted 16% of the highway to dual carriageway by 1999 and expected to complete 60% by 2006. A five-year $129 million program to restore or replace 140 timber bridges was commenced in 1998, to meet the needs of freight carriers. Specific routes targeted were the Golden Highway, the Gt Western and Mitchell Highways between Penrith and Orange, and the Hume and Newell Highways which carried the state's heaviest freight.

Now the challenge for governments was to reduce dependence on road transport, switching passengers to public transport and freight to railways. The minister facing these challenges was Carl Scully, who gained the roads portfolio from Michael Knight in April 1996. The following December, Scully also became the Minister for Transport, an ideal position to allow fully integrated planning. This 'whole of government' approach began with RTA input into the 'Action for Transport 2010' strategy. This strategy contained many long range projects for rail and bus expansion as well as the completion of the Sydney Orbital and the M4 Motorway. Commonwealth funding was sought for projects on the National Highway and Roads of National Importance.

At this present day, the Orbital is well on the way to finishing, with the Westlink M7 due to open in late 2006, and the Lane Cove Tunnel just beginning construction works. Meanwhile the Pacific Highway upgrade is progressing at a steady rate, with dual carriageway as far north as Karuah, the Albury Bypass beginning construction on the Hume Highway, making it ever closer to dual carriageway for its entire length. However, the New England Highway remains mostly 2-lanes and there is a pressing need for bypasses of Maitland and Muswellbrook. There is the usual story though, too much to do with too little money...

This article was written from the information provided in the books 'The Roadmakers' and 'Vital Connections: A history of NSW roads from 1788'. The article is meant to be as historicallys accurate as possible but no responsibilty is taken if the information in this article is contradictory to other beliefs.

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