Over a year ago this blog discussed the proposal to turn the old monorail tracks into an elevated walkway, in the context of comparing it to New York’s famous High Line. The argument was made that the former metropolitan goods line, or at least the remaining portion of it between Central Station and the light rail line, was a better comparison. This is being converted into a pedestrian space, providing both a means of travelling around the city on foot as well as being a destination in its own right.
But there is one place in the Sydney CBD that is similar to the High Line: an uncompleted portion of the Western Distributor at the Southern edge of Barangaroo. Much how the High Line in New York was a disused freight line that was later converted into public space, this never completed section of the Western Distributor lays dormant and unused.
The story behind it goes back to the 1960s, when the Western Distributor was first being built (documented in great detail at the highly recommended Ozroads website). The Harbour Bridge, whose construction was concluded in the early 1930s and not extended further due to Depression and war, had been extended further East via the Cahill Expressway as part of a post-War expansion of the roads network with plans for a continuous freeway all the way through to the current Syd Enfield Drive at Bondi Junction. The Western Distributor was to be the first part of a freeway linking the Southern end of the Harbour Bridge West to the M4 at Concord and South to St Peters. To this end, it was designed as a two level viaduct. The then Department of Main Roads provided this description: “The top level will consist of a divided six-lane expressway…between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Ultimo Interchange…The lower level will be mainly a collector-distributor road with a number of connections to the city streets” (Source: Ozroads).
The first stage, from the Harbour Bridge to the Pyrmont Bridge (now fully pedestrianised, but back then still open to vehicle traffic) was completed in 1972. However, by 1977 the government dumped plans for a freeway all the way to Concord and St Peters, making the two level viaduct plan unnecessary. The Western Distributor was therefore only built as, and today remains, a single level viaduct.
But there is one section of the lower level that was built, at the Southern end of Barangaroo, around where the currently under construction Wynyard Walk (designed to allow pedestrians to travel between Barangaroo and Wynyard Station) comes out from underground at the Barangaroo end. With a bit of work, there is no reason why this cannot be linked up to the Wynyard Walk and converted into public space. It won’t be the size of the New York High Line, not by any means. But given its location, it certainly has the potential to be an iconic piece of the public domain in its own right.
Images below are from the author of this blog. Click to enlarge.