Could you imagine Brisbane without the Story Bridge?

Neil Wiseman’s final Way We Were column in the Sunday Mail today is on the history of the Story Bridge, which encountered some opposition at the time of its construction, both because traffic may not have justified it at the time and the usual NIMBYism. Mr Wiseman writes:

The Story Bridge? Who needs it? Certainly not a retired Brisbane Town Clerk, Frederick Annand, who “considered that an efficient system of ferries would be much sounder economically and would be more convenient than the proposed Kangaroo Point bridge”, according to the Courier-Mail in 1933…

…A Kangaroo Point resident was equally opposed to the proposed “central bridge” in a letter to the paper…“The proposed bridge would bring dust, incessant noise, and an unending stream of hawkers and mendicants, besides making the place [Kangaroo Point] easier of access for undesirables.”

While maintaining a ferry service would have been cheaper, and there were already bridges up-river, the Victoria and William Jolly Bridges, given the large volume of traffic we now see over the Story Bridge, there is no doubt the construction of the Bridge would pass any cost-benefit analysis. It has undoubted benefits in terms of the reduction of travel times for residents and delivery drivers, no doubt benefiting businesses across the metropolis in increased productivity.

Also, the construction of the bridge, at a cost of around 1.6 million pounds over 1935-40, provided an economic stimulus to the Queensland economy during the Depression, when unemployment had reached around 20% of the labour force. Indeed, the economic stimulus benefits appear to have been the major rationale for the construction of the bridge at the time (see this useful article by Advance Mercantile & Investigations). Nonetheless the Bridge quickly proved its usefulness, as noted by Advance Mercantile & Investigations:

…the final cost of 1.6 million pounds was recuperated within seven years, and in 1947 the bridge was transferred to the Brisbane City Council and the toll was removed.

Clearly the Story Bridge was a worthwhile investment, and the Way We Were article makes one wonder what Brisbane would be like today if the Bridge weren’t built at the time? I assume that a bridge, probably in the same location as the Story Bridge, would have been built sometime in the 1950s or 1960s as the congestion that would have occurred on the Victoria and William Jolly bridges would have been intolerable. In the meantime, Brisbane may have had a slower pace of urban development, and it’s likely the southern and eastern suburbs, such as Salisbury and Morningside, would have been slower to develop.

Brisbane would not have functioned as well economically and to an extent this would have limited its attractiveness to post-war migrants. So I expect Brisbane’s population would have been slightly lower in the 1950s if the Bridge weren’t built in the 1930s, and this slightly lower population back then would be reflected in a lower population today, but it would be almost impossible to estimate by how much.

In summary, I expect the construction of the Story Bridge in the late 1930s significantly shaped Brisbane’s economic development in the early years of the post-war boom, and had an impact on our population and pattern of urban development that persists to this day.

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